Intellectual PropertyAfter months (or, perhaps, years) of diligent legal work, your business has finally secured its intellectual property rights through a patent, a trademark registration, a copyright registration or some combination thereof. Finally, you breathe a sigh of relief, put your legal paperwork in a file cabinet and get back to running your business. Years later, you find that a competitor is infringing your rights. After blowing the dust off your paperwork you discover, to your dismay, that your intellectual property rights were not properly maintained and have expired. What happened and what do you do now?

Unfortunately, many clients fail to realize that most intellectual property rights carry maintenance obligations until it is too late. That being said, these are pitfalls which can be easily avoided, and clients often have tools they can use to “backfill” rights if a deadline is inadvertently missed.

Patent Maintenance

patent lawU.S. Patents are subject to periodic maintenance fee payments. The motivation behind this is the anti-competitive effect patents have on the market. Congress decided that there should be some affirmative, monetary obligation of patent owners to maintain patent rights as a means of culling unused patents which might otherwise be preventing competition. Such patent maintenance fees are due at the 3½, 7½ and 11½ year marks. These fees follow the following schedule:

  • 3½ year maintenance fees can be paid between 3 and 3½ years after the patent issuance date;
  • 7½ year maintenance fees can be paid between 7 and 7½ years after the patent issuance date; and
  • 11½ year maintenance fees can be paid between 11 and 11½ years after the patent issuance date.

Additionally, each of these fees can be paid within a six-month grace period (for an additional fee).

If these fees are not timely paid, then the underlying patent lapses and is no longer enforceable. This can be an enormous problem. Many clients either forget or are not told about patent maintenance obligations. The result can be a loss of rights and the inability to stop knock-off products. There are certain procedures to try to reinstate a patent which was unintentionally abandoned in this way, but the costs can be high and the probability of success can vary. This can also open the door to intervening rights by certain competitors. The best thing to do is to carefully calendar maintenance fee deadlines ahead of time and engage counsel to help you.

Trademark Maintenance


Continue Reading IP Maintenance 101: Keeping Your Intellectual Property Rights Alive

IP LawAfter years of research and development, your company is finally about to launch a new “game changing” product. You know you need to protect this product, but where do you start? What do you name your new product, and how do you protect that name? These and other frequently asked questions often arise in new entrepreneurial ventures — whether for new businesses or new product lines for existing businesses.

Most business owners intuitively understand the value of their intellectual property. They understand that their products, brands and other ideas need to be protected, but can be confused by some of the “jargon” used in intellectual property law with words like “patent,” “trademark” and “copyright.” This post helps explain some of the key differences between patents, trademarks and copyrights.

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing a patented invention for a fixed period of time. In the U.S., patents are exclusively under federal jurisdiction and are awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for making public an enabling disclosure of the invention, and generally last for 20 years (15 years for design patents).


Continue Reading What is the difference between patents, trademarks and copyrights?

Product packaging is a critical part of every manufacturer’s operations (and even that of many wholesalers and retailers). A product’s packaging is often the first thing customers see: and first impressions count. That is why, for example, an entirely new discipline – packaging engineering – has grown over the last several decades and why companies like Starbucks® and Apple® work so hard to have every napkin, cup, box and bag uniformly branded.

Yet despite the obvious commercial and marketing importance of product packaging, many companies fail to protect the intellectual property rights embodied in such packaging – rights which can often be secured under patent, copyright and/or trademark law.

Product packaging is one of those often overlooked areas of intellectual property. Manufacturing clients rightly focus on protecting their products but sometimes forget that consumers usually see their packaging first. Failing to protect such packaging can be a major misstep since competitors often infringe upon both packaging as well as products.

Design Patent

A design patent protects the ornamental design (i.e., the “look and feel”) of an invention. In other words, design patents protect the way an invention (including, potentially, product packaging) looks. When most people think about patents, they think about a “utility patent” – something which protects utilitarian or functional aspects of an invention. But a “design patent” is different – it protects the appearance of an invention. That’s often perfect for packaging. In general, that means that new, useful and non-obvious packaging designs can potentially be protected.

Major companies have been using design patents to protect product packaging for over a century. For example, U.S. D48160 is a design patent issued in 1915 over what we now know as the Coca-Cola® bottle. More recent examples include everything from Chobani’s design patent covering product packaging for yogurt boxes (U.S. D828766S1) and Kraft’s design patent covering a salad dressing bottle (U.S. D659000S1) to Starbucks’ design patents for a coffee cup (U.S. D529762S1) and a coffee cup lid (U.S. D516424).

How should companies decide whether or not to consider seeking design patent rights?


Continue Reading Copyright and patent protection apply to product packaging, too

COVID-19 has disrupted businesses and has wrought havoc with timelines and deadlines. Likely, it will continue to do so. Many government agencies, such as the IRS as we reported here, are reacting to COVID-19 by extending deadlines. For those with intellectual property-related deadlines in the near term, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) has recently made some policy changes in response to COVID-19.

Remote Appearances

While work goes on inside the USPTO, the building is closed to the public and any in-person business.  All previously scheduled meetings or hearings before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) or Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) are to take place by video or teleconference.

Deadlines

With regard to deadlines to respond to USPTO actions, inquiries or other deadlines, those are set by statute and rule and the failure to timely respond to a deadline results in an abandonment of the underlying trademark or patent application or registration.


Continue Reading COVID-19 Impact on USPTO Deadlines

The past ten years have seen amazing advances in technology and the next ten promise even more. How has the law kept up to ensure intellectual property rights are adequately protected and what are some major driving forces that will shape IP Law over the next decade.

2010-2020

  1. Globalization. With the rise of e-commerce and the Internet, falling borders and widening markets, businesses are now almost instantly global. No matter where a business is located, it must think beyond its borders and where its customers are and must take steps to protect their intellectual property across national boundaries. While only a select few businesses needed to worry about global IP protection during the 2000s, by 2020 the issue has become far more generally applicable. This has required businesses and their IP counsel to consider global issues at all phases of IP development and to devise appropriate global protection strategies.
  2. The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA). This 2011 overhaul to the United States Patent Act altered the long-standing US rule that the “first to invent” had superior rights to a “first to file” rule. This significant change brought the US patent system in step with the majority global rule. The AIA implemented other changes in the patent system, but the “first to file” change was most significant and just one of several that updated an antiquated statutory regime.
  3. IP as a Business Asset. For decades, the value of a business was primarily represented by its tangible assets — property, equipment, inventories, etc. This has changed, however, and intangible assets, specifically intellectual property assets, now account for significant portions of business valuation. Indeed, according to the IP-oriented merchant bank Ocean Tomo over 84% of the value of the S&P 500 in 2015 was represented by intangible assets. Further, the USPTO has reported that in 2014, “IP intensive industries” accounted for approximately one third of US GDP. With intellectual property becoming such a major component of the value of a business and such a significant element in our national economy during the past decade, businesses have had to adapt and become much more proactive to protect those assets.
  4. Alice. In Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International, the Supreme Court ruled that merely applying an abstract idea on a computer is not patent eligible. What this effectively meant was that computer software programs that simply took abstract ideas—like hedging currencies—and implemented those ideas electronically could not be protected by the patent laws. This led to invalidation of a significant number of software patents and made it extremely difficult for software designers to patent their software. Designers had to react by resulting to different means to protect their inventions. While very few software patents have been issued since Alice, courts are beginning to interpret the decision in ways that pave the way for at least some wider availability of patent protection for software.


Continue Reading Looking Back, Looking Forward: Significant Intellectual Property Developments and Trends for the Future

On June 21, 1788 the U.S. Constitution was ratified. It contains a clause in Article I, Section 8 providing that Congress shall have the power to

promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

This led to the Patent Act of 1790, signed into law by George Washington in April of that year. Since the founding, patent protection has been afforded to “new and useful” processes, machines, articles of manufacture, compositions of matter, ornamental designs and even plant strains. Patent protection provides inventors the right to exclude others from making, using, selling or importing an invention throughout the United States without the inventor’s consent.


Continue Reading Ten Million Patents – What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

BrexitBy a slim margin, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU) last week. Via the European Union Trademark System and the European Patent Convention a trademark or patent owner had the ability to secure protection across all EU member states by a single, unified registration. Of course, EU protection extended only to EU member states. So, with the UK on the way out of the EU, questions arise as to what protection will the owner of an EU right have in the UK once the BREXIT is complete? For companies that do business in Europe, this could have an impact on European Intellectual Property rights. Smart companies should start considering European options now.

Short Term

It will take at least two years for the UK to officially and fully withdraw from the EU. Until that time, all EU treaties and laws will continue to apply. So, for the near term, there does not appear to be any significant impact.

Long Term


Continue Reading BREXIT: What does it mean to your Intellectual Property in Europe?

Audit checklist, with tick against "audit satisfactory",Businesses routinely conduct inventory audits to account for goods on hand, stocks of parts or components, equipment audits to account for machinery and its condition, and financial audits to locate and account for cash and business valuation. Businesses that do not conduct audits invariably run into problems.

Intellectual Property (“IP”) represents an asset class that businesses should regularly audit for a variety of reasons, including:
Continue Reading 5 Reasons Why You Should Conduct an Intellectual Property Audit

7122084695_11f7a0566e_zKimble v. Marvel Enterprises involved a device that allowed its user to shoot “webs” a la Spider-Man. Kimble invented and obtained a patent for this web-shooting device and tried to sell or license that patent to Marvel Entertainment, the creator/owner of Spider-Man. Marvel declined, but ultimately came to market with its own “Web Blaster,” which similarly allowed its user to shoot webs a la Spider-Man. Kimble brought an action for patent infringement which was settled by Marvel purchasing Kimble’s patent for a lump sum plus a royalty on future sales of the “Web Blaster.” The agreement was open ended as there was no termination to the royalty payment.

Are Royalties Due After Patent Expires?

Kimble’s patent expired in 2010. Thereafter, Marvel brought a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination that it was no longer required to pay royalties on an expired patent. Marvel’s position was based on Brulotte v. Thys Co., 379 U.S. 29 (1964), where the Supreme Court held that a licensor is not entitled to patent royalties from a licensee after expiration of the licensed patent. The district court agreed with Marvel, finding no distinction between the fact that Brulotte involved a patent license agreement where the party receiving royalties retained ownership of the patent at issue and the Kimble/Marvel relationship where the party receiving royalties no longer owned the patent at issue. Thus, Brulotte controlled and no further royalties were required after expiration of the Kimble patent. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed reluctantly, agreeing that Brulotte was controlling precedent but felt that the decision was “counterintuitive.”

Decision


Continue Reading Judicial Update: Supreme Court Rules on Spider-Man Web Blaster Patent Royalties

Gavel iconContinuing with our series reporting on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, today we will decipher the impact of the second patent case, Commil v. Cisco, and the claim of “induced infringement.”

Belief in Patent Invalidity is not a Defense

The Commil v. Cisco decision involved the issue of what knowledge is required by a defendant in a claim of induced patent infringement. Briefly, a party can be liable for directly infringing the patent of another, where it utilizes patented matter of another without authorization, or by inducing a third party to infringe a patent of another. Induced infringement often involves situations where a party may simply provide the means to third-parties and their use of those means result in infringement of a patent.

Facts of the Case


Continue Reading Judicial Update: Commil v. Cisco