Apple Inc. Rapidly Growing Its Patent Portfilio

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has awarded 2505 patents to Apple Inc. this year. Apple is clearly investing significantly to protect its concepts. Interestingly, almost half of these patents are design patents, with 1261 being  utility patents and 1244 being design patents. Apple undoubtedly believes in the potential value of design patents. And why wouldn’t it? Its Design Patent No. D604305 for a “Graphical User Interface for a Display Screen or Portion Thereof” accounted for $725 million of the $1 billion jury verdict against Samsung.

Start-ups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses can learn from the technology giant when considering patent protection by not quickly tossing aside design patents and, rather, carefully evaluate how design patents may be effectively used to protect their concepts.

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Tampa – A City of Young Entrepreneurs

If you were asked by a colleague to name the top 5 cities in America for young entrepreneurs, would Tampa make your list? If not, you may want to rethink your answers.  In 2013, Forbes named Tampa as the 2nd best city for young entrepreneurs.*

This might come as a surprise to many, but it is actually old news for entrepreneurs living in City of Young Entrepreneurs. Not only the city of Tampa, but the entire Tampa Bay region, including St. Petersburg, has become an incubation center for technology start-ups.

Programs that help hatch these start-ups can be found on both sides of the bay. Such programs include the Tampa Bay Wave (www.tampabaywave.org), Tampa Bay Technology Incubator at the University of South Florida (www.research.usf.edu/rf/tbti.asp), Gazelle Lab Tampa Bay (http://gazellelab.com/tampabay), and Tampa Bay Innovation Center (http://www.tbinnovates.com).

Young entrepreneurs face many issues including attracting funding and market breakthrough. Protecting their intellectual property, which is often the entire basis for the start-up, is critical in attracting valuable funding and market positioning.

Recent changes to U.S. patent law has created new challenges that must be faced head-on with out-of-the-box creative strategies to protect start-up technology. Whether the technology is software based, a new consumer product, or a new service, creative strategies must be used to balance the delicate nature between funding and protecting the technology. Unfortunately, with recent patent law changes, one miss-step could result in losing the exclusionary rights to the technology and place the entrepreneur at a severe disadvantage. Because of this, start-ups and entrepreneurs should consider aligning themselves with an intellectual property law firm at the very beginning stages.

* Where Are New York and San Francisco On The Top Ten Cities For Young Entrepreneurs (http://goo.gl/iXaL6)

Establishing Your Business Presence on the Internet

With the globalization of the Internet, businesses have realized the value in registering their names or their trademarks as domain names to prevent “cybersquatting” and trademark infringement. Some well-publicized examples of domain name disputes to prove this point include:

  • Candyland.com: an adult entertainment provider originally registered the candyland.com domain name. Hasbro, which owned the candyland trademark, sued the adult entertainment provider for the domain name and now owns the domain.
  • Micros0ft.com: Zero Micro Software registered the micr0soft.com domain name with a zero in place of the second ‘o’. After Microsoft filed a protest, Zero Micro Software ultimately abandoned the domain. Vision Enterprises of Roanoke, TX then registered the domain, and it expired in 2007.
  • Peta.org: The “People Eating Tasty Animals” organization obtained the peta.org domain name. To the disdain of the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,” the domain name was suspended. Today, however, the domain name is in the hands of the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” organization.

Recognizing the potential of social media and/or social networking websites to serve as tools to enhance their businesses, businesses have also taken to develop their online presence on social sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube. It is therefore becoming all the more important for businesses to be proactive in protecting their valuable IP assets in the age of social media.

Seeking trademark protection is merely the first step for savvy businesses. Businesses would do well to register all of their trademarks as domains or as user names, page names, and group names with every social media site. As an example, Facebook allows its users to register URLs for their accounts that follow the format http://www.facebook.com/yourusername. IP-savvy businesses should register each of their trademarks as separate user names.  Businesses should then implement monitoring services to detect instances of infringement.

If, however, another party already has a domain, user name, page name, or group name that may infringe on your trademark, it is essential to understand the remedies that are available to you. When disputes over a domain name occur, an attorney may assist you to bring the domain dispute to arbitration pursuant to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Procedures (UDRP) of ICANN. Parties may also turn to the courts, for more serious issues, by bringing federal claims of cybersquatting in a United States District Court pursuant to the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA).

When a party violates your intellectual property on a social media website, the social media website may have internal dispute resolution mechanisms in place to report instances of infringement. The caveat, however, is that the website will typically attend to such complaints as they see fit. If the internal dispute resolution mechanism proves insufficient to address your needs, your intellectual property rights may also be enforced through more traditional dispute resolution mechanisms such as a cease and desist letter and/or litigation. Contact Maxey Law Offices to help you build and maintain your business’ online presence.

Congress’ New Target After Patent Law Reform: Legal Sites & Copyrights

With the recent and, perhaps hasty, overhaul of the patent law system in the United States through the America Invents Act signed into law by President Obama on September 16, 2011, it appears that Congress has now shifted its focus from patent legislation to copyright legislation.  The shift to copyrights comes in the form of a bill called the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (also referred to as the “PROTECT IP Act,” “United States Senate Bill S.968,” or simply, “PIPA”) that was introduced and passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 12, 2011 by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Several large firms and business groups in the entertainment industry, such as the MPAA and the US Chamber of Commerce, have expressed support for the legislation and claim that PIPA would help shut down “rogue” websites dedicated to infringing activities, such as the online sale of counterfeit products, and save U.S. jobs.

However, arguing that PIPA was an overreach that would imperil free speech and innovation on the Internet, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) placed the bill on hold and prevented the bill from going to the Senate floor for a vote.  Senator Wyden exercised the rule allowing a single senator to place a hold on a bill, even though a hold may be overridden by a 60-vote majority.  Senator Wyden is also known for blocking a similar bill, called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed it in late 2010 which would have expanded the power of federal agencies to seize the domain names of allegedly infringing websites.

While the Senate version of PIPA allows the Department of Justice to seek court orders to force search engines and ISPs to stop sending traffic to websites accused of copyright infringement and allows copyright holders to seek court orders to require payment processors and online ad networks to cease any business with allegedly infringing websites, the House version may include new legal liabilities for websites and online services that rely on user-generated content, effectively destroying sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Opponents to the Bill say it would allow rights holders to obtain temporary court orders against infringing sites without adequate judicial review.  Several concerned groups, such as Web entrepreneurs like the co-founders of Twitter, foursquare, and LinkedIn additionally argue that the bill’s definition of what constitutes a “rogue site” dedicated to copyright infringement is vague.  They argue that the bill could result in inadvertent “collateral damage” to both the Internet and the technology industry because the bill requires that “rogue sites” be removed from search engines, DNS servers, and other third parties.  They have asked the House Judiciary Committee members to hold off on the legislation and consider input from the affected groups.  While members of the House finally agreed to meet with groups representing the technology industry, it has been reported that the Representatives have ignored the technology industry’s concerns regarding the problems the Bill would cause for innovation and job growth and have decided to release the Bill it had been working on with an accelerated push to get the Bill approved.  As the concerned groups have expressed, the stakes are high, and while the technology industry may be leading America out of the recession, “inadvertent damages to the tech sector could not happen at a worse time.”

The House of Representatives is expected to introduce their version of the bill this week.

UPDATE: October 26, 2011

A bipartisan group in the House today introduced the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (H.R. 3261).  The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the “Stop Online Piracy Act” on November 16, 2011.  The text of the bill can be found here.

Tree-mendous Treepods: A Breath of Fresh Air

Last year in October, the SHIFTboston organization in Massachusetts recruited two teams to develop product proposals for the U.S. Green Building Council Urban Tree Competition.  The teams were recruited to develop proposals for a synthetic urban tree that would mimic nature by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, without the need for soil and water, to counteract the damaged and hostile environment that makes it difficult for trees and plants to thrive in the city.  The intent behind this Competition was to find a way to offer the environmental benefits of natural trees in areas that might be unable to support tree growth, for example, in areas in which natural trees and plants experience difficulty growing due to the high levels of smog.

The result was the Treepod, designed by Mario Caceres and Christian Canonico from Paris, France.  The Treepod is essentially a machine, composed of recycled plastic bottles, that is able to remove carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen by using process called “humidity swing”.  The machine is designed to look like a dragon blood tree, with wide branches and umbrella-shaped tops to provide shade and to support the large solar panels which power the tree to mimic a real tree’s ability to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and emits oxygen.  However, in addition to generating energy with solar energy panels, it is capable of harvesting kinetic energy through interactive seesaws and hammocks, located at the base of the Treepod, that visitors can play with. The solar panels and the kinetic energy station are then used to power the air filtration process, as well as interior lighting which light up the Treepods at night and display an array of colorful lights.

While Treepods may not be a replacement for live trees, treepods would be capable of delivering clean air long before newly planted trees would be able to provide the same amount of oxygen to an area and provide a healthy start to create healthier environments for people and animals in and around the city. They are also a hopeful sign of the advanced technologies that may be in the making to provide efficient, economic, and sustainable ways to help our environment.