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!!

Before You Start Crowdfunding, Know the IP Concerns!

http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/crowdfunding-sites/
http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/crowdfunding-sites/

Crowdfunding has become a major financing tool for small businesses from tech start ups to small services companies. This source of funding, made available by The 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startup Act (JOBS Act) which enables small businesses to raise funds from non-accredited investors.  An accredited investor must meet a personal net worth or income test that excludes the majority of the population. There are still rules about how much each person can invest for equity crowdfunding but Title III truly opens up the ability for the average American to invest.

If you are considering a crowdfunding platform for your new venture, or if you are contemplating investing in a crowd-funded project, attention to intellectual property protection is critical.  Often, companies considering crowdfunding are in the early stages of development and owners may not have the appropriate intellectual property (IP) protections in place yet. Here are a few things to consider about each of the major types of intellectual property:

Trademarks:
Securing federal and/or international trademark protection is an important early step to establishing a company and launching a brand.  This, however, can be hard to do or forgotten prior to using the mark in commerce, the standard set by the USPTO. Therefore, posting a project with a proposed trademarkcould serves as an open invitation for trademark infringers in the U.S. and abroad to file for registration first.  The same is true with respect to domain name registrations.  Additionally, without the proper research you could inadvertently launch a brand with a trademark already in use. This is not only bad PR but could open you up to suit before you’ve even begun.Action Items: Do a thorough search on potential marks and make sure it does not conflict with state, federal or international trademarks. Consider filing an Intent to Use trademark application if you are not at the place to file a trademark application based on use. Consult an attorney to make an informed decision based on a thorough search and knowledge of requirements for proving use such that you can file a trademark based on use.

Copyrights:
Although filing is not required to benefit from copyright protection, it is a prerequisite for a U.S. copyright owner who wishes to file suit for infringement in the U.S. If you are going to post copyrighted works in connection with your project disclosure or business plan, and if those works integral to the success of the project or business make sure you protect them. Additionally, make sure if you use the copyrighted work of others in your proposal you have the proper permissions to avoid copyright infringement.

Action Items: Review your copyrighted work and consider filing for copyright registration if any of the work you will loose is integral to the business.  If you plan to use images, music, or other content from third-party sources in your proposal, be sure to obtain appropriate licensing/permission prior to posting such works publicly.

Patents:
Disclosing the details of an invention before filing a patent application may bar patent protection due to required disclosures or missing the first to file window.  Some crowdfunding sites require projects that involve the manufacture and distribution of “gadgets” to “show as much as they can about how they’re going to make their project, including things like a production plan, an estimated schedule, and any details you can provide for backers.”

Action Items: Preserve your rights, patent applications should be filed as early as possible as required by the America Invents Act, under “first to file”. By filing a patent application prior to disclosing a project, the inventor can preserve patent rights and potentially avoid problems with both the statutory bar and potentially conflicting applications.  While U.S. patent law gives the inventor a year after disclosure in which to file, the same is not true in most of the rest of the world where a prefiling disclosure bars patent protection.  Keep this in mind for projects that will rely on foreign marketing and revenue for their success.

General considerations:

  1. Think about your IP on a local and global scale. Develop a state, federal and international IP development plan. As your brand grows, depending on industry and target market you want to make sure your protections are as robust as possible.
  2. Consult an attorney early and often to help you develop your IP strategy and think through the hurdles associated with crowdfunding.
  3. Investigate services like U.K.-based Creative Barcode. that are designed to provide a provide protection for early stage intellectual property. This is NOT an endorsement of these services but this is an option to consider.

Conclusion
Your intellectual property is one of your biggest assets and the last thing you want to do is damage your IP rights while trying to secure funding through crowdfunding. This is just a high level view of the general issues associated with crowdfunding. Depending on the project, the IP issues could be substantially more complex.

Additionally, potential investors should be worried about these intellectual property issues as well. Potential Investors must conduct a due diligence assessment of any venture they seek to invest in as the success or failure of the idea may hinge, at least in part, on the strength and protection of those IP rights.

Trademark Holders Beware of the Generic Curse

Trademarks are wonderful means for protecting your brand. You want your trademark to be pervasive and resonate in the minds of consumers. You want it to be apart of their everyday life! However, when a trademark becomes so common that it is used at the term for the item or service rather that the brand you run the risk of loosing your trademark because it is generic. Under the Trademark Act generic terms cannot be trademarks.  A generic term is a word that the relevant purchasing public understands primarily as the common name for a particular product or service.

What is kleenex?  If you said tissue, you’re incorrect it is actually a brand of tissue that has become so common it is often used as a generic term. Kleenex is lucky because the company fought and won to keep its trademark alive. However, there are a whole host of others that were not as lucky.  For example, escalator, originally a trademark of the Otis Elevator Company, or aspirin which is still a Bayer trademark name for acetylsalicylic acid in about 80 countries, including Canada and many countries in Europe, but declared generic in the U.S.

Recently the word “skew-ball” also came under scrutiny. Full Circle United, LLC (Full Circle) claims the word “skee-ball” is the common name for the game of skee-ball, which has been an American boardwalk and arcade pastime for over a century.  Full Circle, which organizes skee-ball competitions across the country, was sued by SBI, Inc., a manufacturer of skee-ball machines, and owner of the federal trademark registration of “skee-ball,” for infringement of the term “skee-ball.” Full Circle countered by filing its own complaint alleging that SBI has no rights in the word “skee-ball” because, just like many other marks that have come and gone, such as yo-yo, trampoline, and pilates, skee-ball is generic. This case is still being decided.

This phenomenon is hard to control because you want your brand to be popular but some ways to prevent genericizing a brand are:

A sign in a supermarket using "Jell-O" generically - Image from Wikipedia
A sign in a supermarket using “Jell-O” generically – Image from Wikipedia
  • Use the proper name for the good or service in conjunction with the trademark or brand name. For example, you’ll notice that Kleenex’s brand now reads “Kleenex brand Tissue”
  • Let the world know you have a registered trademark by using the appropriate symbols. Use the letter R enclosed within a circle, ® for federally registered marks and for an unregistered mark, use TM.
  • DO NOT use your trademark as a noun. For example: Put on a BAND-AID – NO! Put on a BAND-AID brand bandage – YES!
  • DO NOT use trademark as a verb or plural. Go XEROX the document – NO! Make a copy with the XEROX copier – YES! I need two Kleenexes – NO! I need two Kleenex tissues. – YES!
  • Police your trademark. Correct others misuse of your trademark
  • Educate the public especially authorized users, distributors, and anyone else consumers will believe have authority or knowledge about the brand.

Be proactive about preventing your brand from becoming a generic term. Although this phenomenon is a symptom of your success you want to avoid loosing your trademark

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!​
 

Could a Senate Bill Mean Trouble for the Budget Conscious Fashionista and the “Trickle Down Trend”??

Designers have been vying for a way to protect the creativity and innovation reflected in their collections each season. The recent Louboutin v. YSL case is a great example. However, many designers are not so lucky.

BUT, do we as the consumer want them to be successful??? Don’t we want the looks shown on the runway?  But how many of us can afford them until they’ve been copied and changed slightly to appear at department stores and trendy stores?  Well that might be a new concern for the fashionista on a budget.

On September 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senator Chuck Schumer’s Innovative Design Protection Act., (the “IDPA”), sending the law to the Senate floor for consideration.

Fashion:District The Show
Fashion:District The Show (Photo credit: TPWP)

The IDPA would allow a fashion design to be protected for 3 years if it includes original elements of an article of clothing or accessory (such as a bag or eyewear), or an original arrangement of elements.  U.S. designers would be able to enforce their rights against a “substantially identical” design.  Will this eliminate the “trickle down trends” we all enjoy (I am copyrighting this term lol)??

While the definitions of these terms still leave a lot of room for interpretation, there are some clear parameters in place.  The provision would not protect colors (though some protection is available under trademark law) or graphics on fabric (though traditional copyright protection is available there).  Partial elements of an article, such as a sleeve, are outside the protection, since the legislation only protects the article as a whole.  Other exemptions are made for items that are the subject of independent creation; for copying of the design for home use; and by carve-outs for retailers, consumers, and third parties such as ISPs and search engines.  The IDPA would not extend protection to anything created prior to the enactment of the law.

The bill has garnered the support of the American Apparel and Footwear Association and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, but the California Fashion Association is still opposed to the initiative.  But how do you feel? I am extremely conflicted. As an attorney and a business woman I understand and support the desire to reward and promote innovation by providing protections for those spending their time and using their talents to create new items. However, as a fashionista and consumer I wonder how the industry will adapt. The “new hot thing” each season is just that because traces of it appear in most if not all new collections for the season. So that leads me to believe (or maybe I’m just hoping) that this will not be used as much as we fear or at least won’t be successful enough to deter or hinder the trickle down trend. It will really be beneficial to that stand out item that breaks the mold. Is three years too long to wait for its cheaper sister?

Fashionistas there is hope! We may not have to worry about how this will play out and affect our wardrobes just yet… Congress is busy and time is running short! Federal spending, revenues, the deficit and the national debt are presumably the issues which will garner the limited time and attention likely to be available between now and the end of the session.

Lets watch this one…

Let me know what you think!

Business Owners Trademark Your Brand!: New Law Helps Unregistered Tradmark Owners in the Fight to Protect Their Brand

Get your mark trademarked!! A lot of start-up companies wait to trademark their brand name and/ or logo for monetary reasons or out of sheer ignorance. When trouble arises they hope that state common law protections will be sufficient to protect the time, money and energy invested into creating a recognizable brand. This is true to an extent but the protections are not as clear-cut nor as strong for trademarks not federally registered.

What happens if someone else tries to use your mark or something very similar to it? Well, if they get a federal trademark before you, you might be in some trouble.

Section 43(c)(6) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(c)(6) included a complete bar for state dilution claims brought against federally registered marks. Which means that if someone federally registered your mark before you and you tried to do something about it based on a dilution claim (they are weakening the strength of your mark) you would have very hard time bringing a claim not to mention proving prior ownership if you get to a proceeding.

President Obama on October 5, 2012, signed legislation (H.R. 6215) that restores the limitation of the federal registration defense to trademark dilution claims based on state law only.  This will make it easier to bring a dilution claim against someone attempting to steal your mark or gain an advantage by confusing consumers using your mark.  The House Report (H. Rept. 112-647) for H.R. 6215 points out that Congress could not have intended that federal registration could serve to bar all dilution claims since that result would make it difficult to cancel a diluting mark that is registered. That would only encourage illegitimate mark holders to register diluting marks, and would force legitimate mark holders to expend greater resources monitoring registrations as well as other marks being used in commerce, the Report noted.

Signed Legislation

H.R. 6215 restores the intent of the House-passed version of 15 U.S.C. 1125(c)(6) as follows:

(c)(6) The ownership by a person of a valid registration … shall be a complete bar to an action against that person, with respect to that mark, that —

(A) is brought by another person under the common law or a statute of a State; and

(B) (i) seeks to prevent dilution by blurring or dilution by tarnishment; or

(ii) asserts any claim of actual or likely damage or harm to the distinctiveness or
reputation of a mark, label, or form of advertisement.’.

The need for this legislation was recently confirmed by a ruling of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in the cancellation action in Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences v. Alliance of Professionals and Consultants, Inc., TTAB, Canc. No. 95055081, 9/24/2012.  The TTAB dismissed the action, finding that the language of the 2006 amendment barred a federal dilution claim against a federally registered mark.
Although this new law will help trademark owners without a federal registration protect their marks from infringers/illegitimate mark holders it does not mean that a legitimate trademark holder will be able to defend their mark. This only allows for a greater opportunity to appear in court. Then a legitimate mark holder must start the uphill battle to prove that they are the initial and legitimate mark holder. Trademark protections work better for entities or individuals who have proactively registered their mark(s) with the USPTO. I encourage every business owner, budding business owner, idealist, or individual with a cool mark to register your trademark. Protect your investment. Additionally, seek the help of a trademark attorney.  These applications seem easy but unless your mark is completely nonsensical and a new word you are likely to experience trouble registering the mark.