Accepting Guest Blog Posts

I have accepted a position that will not allow me to write in 2016. However, I want to continue to provide information on cyber, intellectual property (IP), social media, security, privacy, and technology law and policy to you all.  So…. I am accepting  submissions from guest bloggers!

Please send me your best cyber, IP and tech law and policy posts. Many of this blog’s followers are entrepreneurs, technophiles, tech novices, bloggers, social media user and those intrigued by tech, so please cater your posts to that audience. Please send posts to thedigitalcounselor@gmail.com. I will notify you if your post is selected.

Thank you for your submission, in advance, and more importantly, THANK YOU FOR READING!

I hope the readers find previous posts and any information others are able to provide in my absence helpful! And I look forward to returning in 2017!!

Should You Trademark Your Website?

It is extremely important for companies to protect their intellectual property. Developing a comprehensive intellectual property plan is essential to protecting your investment and protecting your consumers from confusion.  Trademarking your brand names, slogans and company name as well as copyrighting blog content, original imagery, and other original works of authorship are commonly know areas of focus for companies and entrepreneurs.  You want to be in control of your brand, your content and your creations.

Now, according to one federal court, companies can use trademark law to protect the unique look and feel of their websites from imitators. As a result of this ruling, companies should consider registering their websites as trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (the “USPTO”).

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California recently ruled in Ingrid & Isabel, Inc. v. Baby Be Mine, LLC, No. 13-01806 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 1, 2014) that the look and feel of a website used to market and sell products and services can constitute protectable trade dress under Section 43 of the Lanham Act. See 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a) (2012). Trade dress, a derivative of trademark law, protects the total image of a business or product, including the arrangement of identifying features such as graphics, packaging, designs, shapes, colors, textures, and décor.

This is an important development for companies seeking to protect their brand online. Your website is an important part of your brand as a company. It is often a customer’s first impression and point of sale.  Previous case-law suggested that a website could constitute protectable trade dress only if the website itself was the product. See Conference Archives, Inc. v. Sound Images, Inc., No. 06-00076, 2010 WL 1626072 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 2010) The Ingrid & Isabel case provides an opportunity to expand those protections. This decision is reminiscent of the USPTO allowing Apple, Inc. to register a trademark for the design and layout of its unique retail stores. Your website is in effect your online store. This is a great example of the law starting to catch up with the times. Companies seeking to take advantage of this protection must make sure their website is 1)distinctive or has acquired secondary meaning and is 2) nonfunctional.RegisteredTM

  1. The court noted that the “Supreme Court has held that ‘design, like color is not inherently distinctive’ [citing a case involving Wal-Mart.]  Given the conceptual similarity between ‘look and feel’ and ‘design,’ Wal-Mart suggests that Plaintiff must show that its website‘s ‘look and feel’ is distinctive through its secondary meaning.” This eludes to the fact that the design of a website is not “inherently” distinct. You want to secure these protections before someone seeks to copy your website. However, per previous case-law  “secondary meaning may be inferred from evidence of deliberate copying of the trade dress…” Therefore, if you can show that your competitor deliberately copied your website, that will help to support your claim for acquired distinctiveness.
  2. Functional elements cannot be protected as trade dress. However, according to the court in Ingrid & Isabel “the placement and arrangement of functional elements can produce a non-functional aesthetic whole.”

This is also an important decision from a cybersecurity perspective. Most consumers are lured into phishing and other fraud scams when malicious actors mimic the look and feel of a brand’s website. Armed with a similar site they can lure unsuspecting consumers to insert personally identifiable information and financial data into their fake site. This can result in identity theft and financial loss. This is another tool in a trademark owner or company’s arsenal to combat fraud and protect their customers.

If your website is distinct, talk to an attorney about protecting it. This is an important consideration and should be part of developing a comprehensive intellectual property plan.

Trade dress protection has existed for decades, but its usefulness for websites and other Internet-based applications has been limited. It will be interesting to see how courts continue to apply the law to websites, mobile apps, and other non-traditional mediums.

Note that the court didn’t determine the ultimate outcome of this case; that’s still in dispute. This ruling merely allowed Ingrid & Isabel’s claim on this point to proceed to trial.

Quick Tip: Consider Foreign Trademark Rights Early

  1. U.S. trademark owners should conduct trademark searches both domestic and international markets that are of potential significance, even if the foreign search is merely a “knock-out” search for identical marks; and
  2. U.S. trademark owners should develop and implement strategies for global trademark protection sooner, rather than later.

International searching and registration are costly and often forgotten when small businesses develop and intellectual property strategy. Being proactive and paying for this search early can prevent the cost to either defend an infringement suit or change branding in an entire geographic region.  With some forethought it is possible to spread the costs of searching and registration over several months or years.  Do not underestimate the growth potential of your brand.

 

Two recent cases illustrate the importance of this kind of forethought:

The Glee Case and the Pintrest Case.

My Appearance on Chat with a Lawyer

I recently appeared on a local television show “Chat with a Lawyer.” I sat with the host Wala Blegay to discuss Intellectual Property law and protecting your business.  Please watch and enjoy!

 

 

 

If you are in the DC metro area the episode will continue to air on Channel 25 Verizon and Channel 71 Comcast twice a day starting this week!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Enforcing Trademarks on Social Media

As a trademark owner you have an obligation to “police” your trademark. What does that mean? You are responsible for finding and addressing infringement of your trademark rights. (Copyright holders have a similar obligation.)  A major part of policing or enforcing those rights is monitoring and addressing violations on social media.

Platform Content Removal Policies

Each social media platform has their own policies for removal of content whether trademarks or copyrighted work.  It is important to determine the appropriate method and provide all the necessary information to secure timely removal. Social media content changes very quickly so to be effective at protecting brand perception you must be swift and efficient about requesting content removal.

Use this infographic I created as a quick reference guide for Takedown Policy Requirements On Top Social Media Sites.

What Do I Take Down?

Not only is knowing the policy requirements important you need to determine when a post/content warrants removal. This is a strategic decision your company should make while engaging all necessary stakeholders including but not limited to management, legal and marketing/PR. Below are a few things to consider when determining when to take down a post:

  1. As an organization develop a policy for what types of brand use or content use are important to the company. Use that as a guide to addressing infringement.
  2. Embrace positive uses of your mark. There are positive uses that can promote your brand. Coca Cola illustrates a great example of embracing what could have been trademark infringement when two fans created a Facebook page for them.  Coca cola just dedicated a few members of their team to monitor the content.
  3. Know the social media platform rules and policies on content removal. See the infographic for some help but visit the policies on the platform.
  4. Figure out who is likely to comply with your request for content removal. It is usually easier to make a request through the platform. It can be hard to determine who posted content and their contact information. Additionally, it is unlikely that they will cooperate. Remember that the social media content provider is not likely liable for anything unless you can prove a partnership or joint ownership and control over the account.
  5. Reviews & other commentary about your brand, positive or negative, are allowed. Most social media sites will not take down content of this nature and this can cause backlash that will outweigh the potential benefit. This is a great opportunity to engage consumers and either address concerns or reinforce positive perceptions.
  6. Consider the public relations implications of requesting removal. Will attempting to remove the content cause backlash that will be more detrimental? There have been a number of instances of brands garnering greater negative media attention for trying to take something down justified or not. If infringer’s presence is significant enough to cause concern consider joining the conversation.
  7. Include all the requested information. Incomplete requests for content removal may cause unnecessary delays.
  8. Include trademark registration numbers for all jurisdictions. Some social media platforms will only block content in the applicable jurisdiction or country if you only provide proof of one registration. Provide all registrations so the social media platform is aware of the extent of your protection.
  9. List exactly where infringements are located on the site. Platforms are not required to search for infringements.
  10. Submit evidence of current use. This information only serves to strengthen your claim and is as easy as providing the url to your website.

Remember your objective when policing your mark is to make sure consumers will not be confused. Your trademark is your calling card, do not let anyone use it in a way that dilutes your reputation or capitalizes on the goodwill or value created in that trademark. If you do not have in-house legal counsel consult with an attorney to develop a comprehensive plan to address trademark infringement.

New gTLDs as a Branding Tool for Entrepreneurs

The launch of new gTLDs (generic top-level domains) provide an amazing opportunity for entrepreneurs and small to medium businesses to further brand their business in their domain name. A gTLD is the part of you domain after the “.”.  Having fun with you website domain can help you stand out as you market yourself and establish your brand. Emphasize your company’s mission, expertise, experience, niche, etc through the top-level domain you use. Also if your company name or other domain you sought to register is taken on .com there are new and exciting options! Don’t miss out on companyname.rocks or company name.consulting.

You can register these new top-level domains just like you register a “.com” domain head to goDaddy, Namecheap, Name.com or your favorite registrar. This is something your should consider early in establishing your company. You don’t want to lose out on the perfect domain name.

This is an opportunity to accent your personal brand as well. As you establish your expertise and want to develop a website that showcases your skills you no longer are limited to firstnamelastname.com you can register firstnamelastname.esq, firstnamelastname.photography, or firstnamelastname.guru.  Grab your new domains as soon as they roll out!

Over 175 new domains have been released or delegated to date, with hundreds more on the horizon. You can view the available domains by visiting this page: http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/program-status/delegated-strings . This page lists the delegated domains, which means they are available for registration. This site will be updated as others are available.

Take advantage of this branding opportunity before others catch on!!
Examples of some new gTLDs that can make for a creative domain name:

.guru
.consulting
.cooking
.ventures
.photography
.active 
.expert 
.coach
.lifestyle
.shopping
.bar 
.pub
.events
.buzz
.solutions
.careers
.company
.management
.enterprises
.technology
.holdings
.rocks
 
Visit my older posts for more information on this launch: What do you know about the new top level domains?Will You Be Confused When The New Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) Launch?​; &​ Five things you should know as the new gTLDs launch.  And as always ask questions in the comments and share your successes and observations re: new gTLDs!​
 

Do Not Track Me… But Cater to Me

We have all become accustomed to having our technology cater to most of our needs in very personal way. However, we all desire to retain a certain amount of privacy.  For example, our cellphones track our every move and click while occasionally make calls – and yet we would be lost without the maps and ability to request anything from “Siri.” Our cable boxes may bring our favorite shows and movies but they also report back to providers all of your family’s television viewing habits.  We all appreciate the convenience that customization provides however that means a loss of privacy….

Why Are We Worried?
The latest buzz word is the The Internet of Things (IoT). What is that? “The Internet of Things” refers to the concept that the Internet is no longer just a global network for people to communicate with one another using computers, but it is also a platform for devices to communicate electronically with the world around them. The result is a global “network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate or interact with people, things, and the external environment. It includes everything from traffic sensors to refrigerators, thermostats, medical devices, and wristwatches that can track or sense the environment and use the data they collect to provide a benefit, or transmit the data to a central repository for analysis, or both.”

This network of objects enables providers of goods and services to use your personal behavior to profile and evaluate your activities and habits.  The Internet of Things will result in increased data collection, amplifying the importance of simplifying choices and giving control to individuals with real-time notices. Transparency will facilitate consumer understanding of the collection, use and sharing of personal data. However, there is a real danger of data being used in unexpected ways. The Internet of Things has created a potential perfect storm of four major information policy concerns: online safety, privacy, security, and intellectual property issues. The goal is to determine what “reasonable” expectations regarding data usage should be, and then manage consumer expectations accordingly. Measures ensuring the network’s resilience to attacks, data authentication, access control and client privacy need to be established.  An ideal framework would consider the underlying technology and involve collaboration on an international scale.

The need to balance reasonable activity on the Internet and use of The Internet of Things with responsible privacy protections is exponentially increasing. This balance is extremely important because the last thing we want is to stifle innovation by over legislating this area.

Laws to Watch
At least 14 states have proposed legislation on the 2014 docket that is intended to increase privacy protection for consumers and limit both government and private sector surveillance via the Internet of Things. At the federal level, several bills are already making their way through Congress.

State
AB370, an amendment to the California Online Privacy Protection Act of 2003 (“CalOPPA”). CalOPPA requires owners of commercial websites and online service providers (“operators”) to conspicuously post a privacy policy. The privacy policy must disclose to consumers, among other things, the categories of personally identifiable information (PII), such as name, hone address, email address, social security number,  the operator collects and with whom the operator shares such information. Operators affected by CalOPPA include website operators and, as interpreted by the California Office of Attorney General, operators of software and mobile apps that transmit and collect PII online.

Federal 
The Black Box Privacy Protection Act is a bill in front of Congress that prohibits the sale of automobiles equipped with event data recorders-unless the consumer can control the recording of information. Additionally, the data collected would belong to the vehicle owner.

The We are Watching You Act is a bill in front of Congress that requires the operator of a video service (such as a DVR or Xbox) to display the message “We are watching you” as part of the programming provided to the consumer prior to the device is collecting visual or auditory information from the viewing area. This is not likely to pass but its a sign of legislation to come.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has this phenomenon on its radar, it hosted an all-day workshop entitled, “Internet of Things: Privacy and Security in a Connected World in November. The FTC has also released a number of reports and guidelines that direct business on how to protect consumer privacy.

International 
With Internet Governance on the forefront of international discussion, international “Internet of Things” legislation is not the priority and likely to be left up to each country to decipher. International collaboration on issues like this early is one out come I hope comes from these Internet Governance talks…. but we’re a long way out from that happening.

The examples listed are a narrow sampling of privacy legislation designed to protect users from unwanted intrusions. Most notably, states have passed a number of laws protecting privacy rights in recent years.

Conclusion
The Internet of Things will bring tremendous new benefits to consumers but we must balance the need for consumer privacy. State, federal and international regulators must work to restrict government and private-sector collection and control of the data IoT will create. In the meantime, make sure you are aware of the information you provide through your IoT. Explore privacy settings and read privacy policies if you are concerned about sharing too much data with providers. Know what your priorities are as it relates to customization and privacy. If you value convenience and do not mind a prying eye or two, if it means a personalized user experience, share your data freely. However, if you value preserving your privacy be proactive about doing so until lawmakers can find the appropriate balance. Do not shun technology just educate yourself.

New gTLD Timelines

ICANN
New gTLD timeline

ICANN has released two new timelines for when we can expect the launch of the first new gTLDs (the part of the URL behind the “.” such as “.com” or “.mobi”).

The launch of these new gTLDs will have a lasting and significant effect on the way we use and operate the Internet. This fact is why new gTLDs have yet to launch. The industry is a buzz with the pros and cons of every aspect of this change. The confusion of consumers, protecting intellectual property, domain name approvals, potential monopolies, privacy, and other business concerns are on the forefront.  No interest group wants things to remain the same but with competing interests and priorities carving out new policy has been slower than anticipated.

I encourage consumers to remain aware of this development. This will develop the way we consume online information.   I will continue to write about the developments. Also visit some of my previous posts such as Will You Be Confused When the New gTLDs Launch?  Visit ICANN’s site on new gTLDs for developments.

What are you concerned about? Are you interested in hearing more about the effect this will have on businesses and families?