Five Best Ways to Protect Your Ideas

Idea

When I first meet a client, I am often asked “How can I protect my ideas?” While it may seem like a simple question, getting the answer right is often tricky. That’s because one can’t actually own an idea, in and of itself. Sounds confusing, I know. The five best ways to protect your ideas are 1) Identify, 2) Organize, 3) Register (or restrict), 4) Monitor, and 5) Enforce. This articles focuses on how to identify the best ways to protect your ideas.

Regardless of industry, Ideas are the keys to any successful business. While one cannot “own” an idea, one can protect one’s Intellectual Property rights that relate to the embodiment or manifestation of that idea. For example, Copyright, Patent, Trademark, Trade Secret and Publicity Rights are all forms of Intellectual Property rights that grant exclusive rights to the owner, both artistic and commercial.

Copyright protects works of creative artistic expression such as books, movies, audio-visual music, paintings, photographs, and importantly, software. Copyright protection requires that a work be “fixed” in tangible format (this includes electronic format) and gives the owner (called the “author”) of such works the exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, and modify a work for a certain period of time.

Patents (utility and design), Trademarks and Trade Secrets protect creative commercial expression sometimes known as “industrial properties,” as they are typically created and used for industrial or commercial purposes.

A Patent protects the invention or discovery of “any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” A Patent gives the inventor “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States for a period of time.

A Trademark is any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from others, and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name or logo that is a distinctive sign which is used to prevent confusion among products in the marketplace. A Trademark enjoys protection indefinitely, as long as it is being used.

An industrial design right protects the form of appearance, style or design of an industrial object from infringement.

A Trade Secret is an item of non-public information concerning the commercial practices or proprietary knowledge of a business. Public disclosure of trade secrets may sometimes be illegal. A Trade secret enjoys protection indefinitely, as long as it is being kept secret.

Some rights are “statutory” in that they exist because they are granted by the Constitution of the United States, e.g. Copyright and Patent. Other rights arise from “use,” e.g. Trademark and Trade Secret rights. Some arise under State law, e.g., Rights of Publicity. Not all types of intellectual property require registration in order to obtain, maintain or enforce one’s rights. However, registration is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED if available, is required in certain circumstances and, even when not required, registration often confers several benefits that enable enforcement, reduce the risk and costs of enforcement, and provide additional incentives and remedies for enforcement.

The term “Intellectual Property” denotes the specific legal rights described above, and not the intellectual work, concept or idea itself. Oftentimes, the largest value of a businesses can be traced to its intangible assets. Knowing how to identify intangible assets and understanding which Intellectual Property rights apply to these assets is critical to the ability to protect and commercialize one’s ideas. Therefore, great care should be given to maintaining and enhancing their power and value. Value can be increased through a carefully planned and executed strategy. Innovative companies that successfully leverage their Intellectual Property rights will stand to benefit most from the opportunities presented by the current economic marketplace and demand for innovation.

 

Focus | Vision | Perspective | Passion

Executives face a confusing and dynamic set of challenges ensuring their business remains legally compliant. Yet few can afford the highly-qualified and versatile legal staff needed to deal with today’s complex legal & regulatory environment.

Adler Law Group was created to provide clients with a competitive advantage by enabling them to leverage their intangible assets and creative content in a way that drives innovation and increases the overall value of the business.

For a FREE, no-obligation 1 hour consultation to learn the best ways to identify, protect and leverage your ideas, please call: (866) 734-2568, click: http://www.adler-law.com, or write: David @ adler-law.com.

Adler Law Group – Providing innovative legal counsel that elevates aspirations to achievements.™

Why Every Trademark Owner Should Care About B&B Hardware

Does a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) decision that there is a likelihood of confusion between two trademarks prevent federal district court trademark litigation?

The purpose of a trademark is two-fold: to identify the owner or “source” of goods and services, and to prevent consumer confusion in the marketplace. Therefore, the test for trademark infringement under the Trademark Act of 1946 (Lanham Act), is whether use of a trademark is “likely to cause confusion” with an existing, registered mark. A person generally may neither use nor register a mark that would be “likely to cause confusion” with an existing trademark. If a person uses a mark that one believes is likely to cause confusion, the owner of the registered mark may sue in federal court for trademark infringement. 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1). If a person seeks to register a mark that is likely to cause confusion with an existing registered mark, the owner of the existing registered mark may oppose the registration of the new mark before the TTAB. 15 U.S.C. § 1052(d); see id. §§ 1063, 1067(a).

In B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2899 (US 2014), the United States Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the TTAB’s determination of a likelihood of confusion precludes a trademark litigant from re-litigating that issue in a federal court infringement action involving a likelihood of confusion element.

Plaintiff B&B Hardware Inc. (“B&B”) produced industrial fasteners for the aerospace industry under the mark SEALTIGHT since 1990. B&B’s SEALTIGHT mark was registered with the PTO in 1993. Subsequently, Hargis Industries, Inc. (“Hargis”) adopted the mark SEALTITE for its self-drilling, self-taping screws for use in the metal-building industry. Hargis applied to register SEALTITE with in 1996, but its application was initially refused due to the existence of B&B’s registration. Hargis then sought to cancel the B&B registration alleging that the B&B mark had been abandoned. However, prior to a final decision by the Board, B&B sued Hargis in U.S. District Court alleging infringement of its registered SEALTIGHT trademark.

A jury in the District Court found in favor of Hargis that there was no likelihood of confusion between the marks. The parties appealed to the Eighth Circuit which affirmed the District Court decision and the issue was ultimately taken by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reversing the Circuit Court, the Supreme Court remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that a likelihood of confusion determination by the TTAB should have preclusive effect as long as the ordinary elements of issue preclusion are met and the usages of the marks are materially the same.

“Issue preclusion” or “res judicata” is an important concept for both fairness and judicial economy. Essentially, litigants should not get two bites at the same apple. In the past, the TTAB would suspend its proceedings if a case was simultaneously pending in District Court.

The key take away for trademark practitioners is strategic since trademark oppositions and cancellations do not result in a damages award or determination of infringement. Yet, its decisions can now be used as the basis for finding infringement in District Court where an adverse decision may have far-reaching effects.

The New Wave of Data-Breach Outrage

You can almost feel it, like a power-line buzz in the air. If 2014 was the year that consumers and legislators woke up to the real threat to privacy and information security, 2015 may be the year that sees a shift in both enforcement and penalties.

On February 5, Anthem, Inc., the country’s second-largest health insurer by market value announced a security breach resulting in unauthorized access to tens of millions of current and former customer and employee accounts, Bloomberg reports.

Of particular concern is that the compromised data included social security numbers and birth dates, etc. Very different than having a credit card number stolen.

Last week, a group of 10 state attorneys general (AGs) sent a letter chastising Anthem for the length of time it took to notify the public of the breach. The letter was written on behalf of Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Some observers have commented that current encryption technology can limit the amount of data that even “authorized users” can view at one time, making it more difficult to compromise massive amounts of data.

In this situation, the breach occurred through misuse of an authorized user’s credentials, so encryption alone would not have worked. While most companies give universal access to data to some employees (senior level or IT), for the encryption approach to work, no one person or set of credentials should allow access to all data.

In the end, the new “best practices” approach may be a combination of encryption plus controls to limit the amount of data that any one set of credentials can access.

When it comes to addressing data privacy risks, it is often difficult to determine whether you should slow down, change course, signal for help, or simply muddle through. Often, teams tasked with managing privacy need to quickly identify potential issues, assess the risk, and implement controls to steer clear of unneeded exposure. The privacy professionals at the Adler Law Group can help you adopt Privacy Impact Assessments – or similar tools – and standardize a methodology for approaching these challenges by setting objectives, determining scope, allocating resources, and developing practices that will efficiently and effective manage privacy, while keeping pace with the business. For a free consultation, call us at (866) 734-2568, send and email to info@ecommerceattorney.com or visit our web site www.adler-law.com.

Three Things To Improve Your Law Firm’s Social Media Marketing in 2015

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When I committed myself to social media marketing a few years ago, like most lawyers, I wasn’t quit sure what I was getting myself into. One thing I knew for sure: I had to just start.

I’m sure my early posts were fairly mundane and added little value, let alone acted as a catalyst for a conversation. As most social media experts will posit, social media is about identifying and engaging with customers, employees and prospects. Over time, I increased my engagement, learned to participate and learned what worked and what didn’t. What follows are a couple of things that I try to keep in mind as part of my legal social media marketing efforts.

1. Have a voice. As lawyers we have instant credibility. Use this to your advantage. Whether you are a personal injury lawyer or in house counsel to a pharmaceutical company, you probably follow certain topics or have expertise in a particular area. You can use your area of expertise to talk about events, trends or interesting developments. Even if all you do is post a link to something that interests you, you are developing your online persona.

2. Cultivate your followers. One of the most powerful aspects of social media marketing is the network effect. As followers like, share or favorite your content, your message gets spread exponentially. Don’t be afraid to engage with those followers to cultivate and strengthen those relationships.

3. Always evaluate. Sometimes I am shocked that a post gets shared or favorited. For whatever reason, the subject matter resonates with my followers and my followers’ followers. When I see that, I try to note the subject area or topic, how it was shared an by whom. Focusing on content that others find useful enhances the value of my voice and my content.

As we look forward to 2015, now is an opportune time to take a look at what work last year, what didn’t and how we can improve our focus going forward.

If you find my posts uself, I encourage you to share, comment, follow or just get in touch.

Best of luck for your legal marketing efforts in 2015!

Failure to Mind Corporate Details Leads to Loss of Copyright, Infringement Lawsuit

The case of Clarity Software, LLC v. Financial Independence Group, LLC is a great example the serious, negative consequences to intellectual property ownership when business owners and legal counsel fail to ensure that tasks are completed.

The short version is that the creator of computer software, Vincent Heck, sold the copyright in his software to settle a debt to a creditor, Eric Wallace, who intended to form Clarity Software, LLC to own and distribute the software. The lawsuit was for infringement of the copyright in the software.

As they say, “the devil is in the details.” In this case, the detail that became a devil, and ultimately prevented Wallace from enforcing a copyright in the software, was the fact that Clarity Software, LLC was never properly formed and therefore lacked standing to sue for infringement.

Forgive me for employing yet another trite phrase, but “truth is often stranger than fiction.” The Defendant proved that a veritable comedy of errors had occurred resulting in no record of the formation, including 1) the Department of State of Pennsylvania losing the certificate of organization, along with all records of the submission and filing of the certificate of organization, 2) the Plaintiff’s bank (PNC Bank) losing its copy certificate of organization provided when Wallace opened a bank account (even though PNC Bank still had the signature card completed when the account was opened), and 3) Wallace, himself a former President of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants, losing his copy of the certificate of organization and all records of his communications with his attorney.

Defendant successfully moved for summary judgment based on its argument that Plaintiff did not own the copyright at issue in the litigation since it was not properly organized as a Pennsylvania limited liability company and never acquired valid ownership of the copyright.

Hat tip to Pamela Chestek and her blog, Property Intangible, where she first wrote about this case October 13, 2014. The opinion and order can be found here: Clarity Software, LLC v. Financial Independence Group, LLC, No. 2:12-cv-1609-MRH (W.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2014).

To find out more about how the Adler Law Group can help your business identify risk and issues related to intellectual property ownership, corporation or LLC formation, or just assess risk associated with your business, contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation by emailing David @ adler-law.com, visiting out web site www.adler-law.com, or calling toll free to (866) 734-2568..

Contract Drafting: Limitations of Liability & Exceptions

One of the most important functions of a contract is to reduce uncertainties and mitigate risks. That is why almost all professional or personal services contracts contain “limitations of liability” provisions. Although they may seem like densely-worded, “boilerplate” provisions, and often overlooked, these provisions broadly affect a party’s ability to bring a claim, show liability, and prove damages that can be recovered.

A limitation of liability clause is a provision in a contract that limits the amount of exposure a company faces in the event a lawsuit is filed or another claim is made. As a preliminary observation, it is important to note that enforcement of limitation of liability provisions vary from state to state. The general rule in contract law is that in the commercial context, many states have found these clauses to be a mere shifting of the risk and enforce them as written.

Limitations of Liability generally address two areas of concern. First, the types of claims that may be barred. Second, the amount or scope of liability for claims that are not barred.

Limiting The Type Of Claim

A typical limitation of liability clause may look something like this:

“IN NO EVENT SHALL A PARTY OR ITS DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, OR AGENTS, BE LIABLE FOR ANY CONSEQUENTIAL, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, PUNITIVE, EXEMPLARY, OR INDIRECT DAMAGES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO ANY DAMAGES FOR LOST PROFITS. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE TOTAL LIABILITY OF A PARTY EXCEED THE AMOUNTS PAID BY CLIENT, IF ANY, FOR THE SERVICES.”

This clause limits the types of damages that may be claimed, prohibiting claims for:

  • Consequential damages (damages resulting naturally, but not necessarily, from the defendant’s wrongful conduct, BUT they must be foreseeable and directly traceable to the breach)
  • Incidental damages (includes costs incurred in a reasonable effort, whether successful or not, to avoid loss, or in arranging or attempting to arrange a substitute transaction)
  • Special damages (often treated the same as “consequential” by courts, “special” damages have been defined as those that arise from special circumstances known by the parties at the time the contract was made)
  • Punitive damages (damages that may be awarded which compensate a party for the exceptional losses suffered due to egregious conduct; a way of punishing the wrongful conduct and/or preventing future, similar conduct)
  • Exemplary damages (See “Punitive damages”)
  • Indirect damages (See “Consequential damages”)
  • Lost Profits (Cases in New York (and elsewhere) have a held that a clause excluding “consequential damages” may no longer be enough to bar “lost profits” claims; therefore, consider including more specific provisions in contracts- if parties want to exclude lost profits for breach of contract, a clause specifically excluding “lost profits” should be included.)

Lost profits that do not directly flow from a breach are consequential damages, and thus typically excluded by a limitation of liability clause like that above. But lost profits can be considered general damages (and thus recoverable) where the non-breaching party bargained for those profits, and where the profits are a direct and probable result of the breach.

Limiting The Amount Of The Claim

If found to be enforceable, a limitation of liability clause can “cap” the amount of potential damages to which a party is exposed. The limit may apply to all claims arising during the course of the contract, or it may apply only to certain types of claims. Limitation of liability clauses typically limit the liability to one of the following amounts: (i) the compensation and fees paid under the contract; (ii) an sum of money agreed in advance; (iii) available insurance coverage; or (iv) a combination of the above.

Parties can and typically do agree in their contract that liability is capped at some dollar amount. If liability exists and if damages can be proved, then the aggrieved party recovers those damages, but only up to the agreed cap. Sometimes these are mutual; other times they are one-sided. Sometimes the cap is a fixed sum (e.g., “the amounts paid for the services” or “$100,000”). Other times, the parties may choose to tie the cap to the type of harm, (e.g. personal injury, property damage, violations of confidentiality obligations).

However, sometimes that parties may agree that certain types of harm should not be limited. These “exceptions” put the parties in the same position they would have occupied if there was no limitation of liability provision in effect. For example:

  • exposure for violations of intellectual property (copyright, trademark, trade secret, patent) or proprietary rights (right of publicity, right of privacy, contractually-defined proprietary information)
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnity and defend for 1) breach of intellectual property representations, and/or 2) third party intellectual property or proprietary rights
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnify because a party didn’t have the right to provide data or information
  • in the event of an obligation to indemnify and defend for non-compliance with data security standards
  • exposure for violations of confidentiality obligations
  • personal injury or property damage due to negligent acts or omissions

Best Practices

Businesses that rely upon limitation of liability clauses should periodically reexamine those clauses. Questions that you should be asking include: “what’s my maximum recovery if the other party breaches,” and “what’s my maximum liability if I breach?”

These are only effective if enforceable, that’s why drafting is key. According to many courts, following certain drafting guidelines will help reduce the likelihood that a limitation of liability clause will not be enforced. Such guidelines include:

  • Make the clause conspicuous: set the clause in bold face print or underline or otherwise place the clause apart from the rest of the text on the page on which it appears so that the other party is aware of its existence.
  • Make the language clear and concise: make sure that the clause is concise and unambiguous as it relates to the contract as a whole.
  • Identify specific risks: be specific in identifying the types of damages you think should be excluded.
  • Negotiate the clause: discuss the clause with the party that is signing the agreement and negotiate if there is a discrepancy.
  • Retain drafts of revisions: keep drafts of any revisions made to the limitation of liability clause so that you have proof that the clause was negotiated.
  • Add language stating that these damages are not recoverable even if they were, or should have been, foreseeable or known by the breaching party.
  • Recite that the limitation of liability clause is an agreed benefit of the bargain, and that it remains in effect even if any remedy under the contract fails of its essential purpose.
  • Consider including a liquidated damages clause for specific breaches, which would replace a damages claim.

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Please consult  qualified attorney to discuss your specific situation.

If you are concerned about how to tighten your contracts, we may be able to help. We can review your contracts, your business practices, and advise on whether there is room for improvement.

Please contact us for a no-fee, no-obligation consultation. (866) 734-2568 David [at] adler-law.com

Zombie Cinderella ‘Survives’ Walt Disney’s Cinderella Trademark- No Likelihood of Confusion

United Trademark Holdings, Inc. (“Applicant”) appealed a decision by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office refusing registration of its “ZOMBIE CINDERELLA” trademark for dolls when the USPTO held that it was confusingly similar to the registered “WALT DISNEY’S CINDERELLA” trademark.

In any likelihood of confusion analysis, two key considerations are the similarities between the marks and the similarities between the goods at issue. Applicant demonstrated that the story of “Cinderella,” is a “well-known narrative … involving a beautiful young lady, her antagonistic stepsisters, a fairy godmother, a ball, a prince, and a pair of glass slippers, existing since at least as early as 1697.”

The USPTO cited to nine other doll lines that use the name “Cinderella” holding that: 1) the mark is weak, and 2) CINDERELLA is not the dominant component of the cited, registered mark. The court found that while the dominant part of the mark -the term CINDERELLA – was similar, use of the terms “Walt Disney” and “Zombie” differentiated the two. The USPTO also found that “the design element of “WALT DISNEY’S CINDERELLA” may function, for juvenile customers, as a stronger source indicator than the term CINDERELLA, because it depicts a specific version of Cinderella that is associated with the Walt Disney animated film” of the same name.

Lastly, although the word “zombie” has little significance or distinctiveness as a source indicator in the marketplace for toys, the combination of ZOMBIE with CINDERELLA creates a unitary mark with an incongruous impression.