We live in challenging times, yet we have the opportunity and the means to flourish, and should do so.
In 1966, Senator Robert F. Kennedy faced the challenges of his era and recalled an ancient curse, which says “May he live in interesting times.” Senator Kennedy observed “Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged - will ultimately judge himself – on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.” Senator Kennedy saw opportunity in adversity.
Although we face different challenges than those faced by Senator Kennedy, we can draw from the Senator inspiration to flourish in our own interesting and uncertain times. We too live in the most creative of any time in history, and our management and shareholders will judge us on how well we continue to contribute to the business.
Updated May 18, 2020
The coronavirus seems to be exerting itself upon all phases of life, and your intellectual property is not immune. While you, your families, your friends, and your colleagues are getting comfortable with the new normal of social-distancing, intellectual property (IP) offices worldwide have also been grappling with how to handle the impact of coronavirus (also referred to as COVID-19).
Building upon our recent note concerning general international intellectual property protection considerations, this article describes how foreign IP expansion efforts might play out in a case study format. The company, a hair restoration lotion manufacturer named WonderFlo Tonight, is fictional, but the fact pattern is derived from real world situations encountered by businesses as they seek to establish and protect their intellectual property in foreign markets.
Businesses must balance the desire for intellectual property protection throughout the world with budget management goals. There is no “one size fits all” approach for achieving that balance, but there are certain considerations that all business that hope to operate on the global stage should be aware of and think through.
Global IP portfolio management strategy should be driven by the need to be positioned to take aggressive action in commercially important markets, while at the same time staking out a more defensive position in markets of less immediate commercial importance but that might become more important. IP filings in places known as havens for opportunists who might interfere with your business plans in those places through bad faith filings also might be warranted.
In the case of patents and trademarks, pre-filing diligence in the form of patent “freedom to operate” searches and trademark availability searches should be considered. While blindly filing abroad and simply waiting to see whether issues are encountered at the various registries is an option, the pre-filing searching might uncover details about potentially conflicting third-party rights and allow for strategic adjustments. Turning to considerations specific to categories of IP:
Patent applications often are filed directly at the national level, but there are numerous regional patent offices that provide regional patent registrations. These include the European Patent Office (EPO), the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI), and the Eurasian Patent Organization (EAPO). Through these organizations inventors can file a single application that will receive protection in the regional “member countries”.
Moreover, under the Paris Convention, an inventor’s patent application filing date can be retained in other countries party to the treaty (most commercially significant countries are included) provided that the foreign patent applications are filed within one year of the U.S. filing date (or six months in the case of design patents).
Whether applying for a patent in a given country or jurisdiction makes sense should be determined by evaluating whether the subject matter is likely to be considered patentable in that country, whether the short-term and long-term legal costs are justified relative to the business value of protection, whether preserving the technology or methodology as a trade secret instead of patenting it makes more sense, and how difficult and costly it is to enforce a patent there.
Trademark protection also requires taking specific action for each country or jurisdiction (e.g., the European Union is one jurisdiction for purposes of registering a trademark). The two types of action are: (1) filing a trademark application directly with that country’s trademark registry through local counsel; or (2) using a home registration as the basis for securing an International Registration through which one designates rights to the various countries of interest.
The International Registration approach avoids the local counsel service fees associated with direct filings, but usually means doing without pre-filing advice that could improve the chances of a successful outcome. The International Registration approach also entails limitations that are beyond the scope of this article but that will be addressed in a future blog post, including the requirement for U.S. companies that the International Registration mirror the scope of the underlying U.S. registration (which often results in more narrow registration protection than otherwise would be available).
Trademark protection standards vary from country to country. What is required or makes sense in one country might not be the best approach in another. For example, in the U.S. a trademark application must be supported by a declaration under oath that the applicant intends to use the mark in relation to all listed products and services, which usually requires a narrow approach. In certain other countries, however, broader filings are possible and generally recommended because there is no such limitation (although in the future a resulting registration in that other country could be cancelled by a third party on the basis of the mark’s non-use).
Let’s not forget copyrights. Legal protection for copyrights, like patents and trademarks, is territorial, but protecting copyrights generally entails less in the way of formalities. In fact, the U.S. is one of only a few countries that have copyright registration systems. There are international treaties that the U.S. and virtually all other commercially relevant countries have joined, most notably the Berne Convention, that reduced formality requirements and provides that works shall be protected in countries other than the author’s country of origin in the same way that the foreign country protects works of its own authors.
So, for example, if a German business without authorization were to publish in Germany and profit from a U.S. business’ content authored in the U.S. and protected by U.S. law, a German court would recognize and enforce those U.S. rights as if German rights (not applying U.S. law, but treating the rights as valid rights under German law). The same would apply for works authored in Germany, e.g., which would be recognized as protected under U.S. law if infringed in the U.S. Certain benefits associated with U.S. copyright registration, however, such as statutory damages, are not automatically afforded to foreign works under that scenario absent registration.
Copyrighted expressive content often is misused by other organizations with which your business has a relationship and should be managed contractually. While having rights recognized by a foreign country’s courts is desirable, there are inherent challenges and increased costs associated with taking legal action in a foreign country. U.S. companies should make a point of imposing contract provisions upon foreign distributors/partners through which they carefully define limited purposes for which copyrighted content can be used and through which the other organization consents to jurisdiction in the U.S. for lawsuits.
[The considerations highlighted above will be addressed in greater detail in future blog posts.]
Pat Concannon and John Loughnane, partners in Nutter’s Intellectual Property and Corporate and Transactions Departments, respectively, analyzed the significance of the upcoming oral arguments in the Supreme Court case Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC.
In the Q&A, “Mission Product Holdings, Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC: Will the Supreme Court Clarify the Rights of Trademark Licensees Upon Rejection?,” Pat and John discussed why there is such great uncertainty on this issue, leading to widely different results among the lower courts; how licensees can protect themselves if a licensor files for bankruptcy; and what they predict will happen in the Tempnology case. According to Pat and John, when licensing trademark rights, you need to think about a host of issues at the outset including the impact of a licensor declaring bankruptcy.
The word “brand” has come to be used broadly as a business buzzword, and with good reason. A brand often is comprised of a company name or a product name - but it is much more than that. It is a projection and reflection of goodwill. It is a promise, a feeling, an ethos, a lifestyle statement. It acts as a reassuring signpost for consumers in a busy marketplace, signaling a trusted source and a consistent level of quality.
Successful brands are not attention-grabbing gimmicks. A product or service name, however clever, merely is a shell, and hopefully that shell is filled with and overflows with positive consumer sentiment that results from a consistently good user experience – whether that experience is eating a taco, using a travel booking website or interacting with an accounting professional.
This blog post is an introduction to a series of posts that address legal brand protection. Legal measures cannot provide the most fundamental underpinnings for a successful brand, such as quality, consistency, authenticity and good timing in terms of meeting a market demand. Legal measures can, however, position businesses to stake out, defend and protect their brands. Legal brand protection measures include pre-filing and pre-use diligence, registration and policing, and each of these categories involves an array of nuanced considerations that this blog series will address.
Key Takeaway: Key business considerations relevant for choosing between patents and trade secrets include: (1) Need for transfer of IP rights; (2) Life cycle of the product or service; (3) Cost of IP protection; and (4) Other business considerations.
Key Takeaway: One critical question to ask when deciding whether to protect your invention using patents or trade secrets is how well the invention can be kept secret. Ease of reverse-engineering, risk of independent duplicate creation, and the ease of maintaining the invention secret in a commercial setting are factors that should be considered.
Recently the Ninth Circuit ruled that Google’s trademark for search engines has not become generic and is still enforceable as to search engines. As Bayer learned with its previously-existing trademark aspirin, when a court determines a trademark to be generic, the mark is no longer protectable. In effect, a generic (no longer a) trademark is re-appropriated by the public such that the mark is no longer a source-identifier for the related goods and services. A generic (no longer a) trademark tells the public what the good and services are rather than who makes and/or sells the goods or services. Additional examples of trademarks that courts held to be generic include cellophane, thermos, and trampoline.
The Supreme Court held in Matal v. Tam that the Lanham Act’s provision forbidding the registration of disparaging trademarks is unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment. The Court explained that “[s]peech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”
Maximizing the protection and value of intellectual property assets is often the cornerstone of a business's success and even survival. In this blog, Nutter's Intellectual Property attorneys provide news updates and practical tips in patent portfolio development, IP litigation, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and licensing.