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Is your intellectual property protected? Featured

10:18am EDT January 30, 2002
Protecting your company's market share is always important, but it is especially so in less favorable economic times, says Jim Eley, partner with Thompson Hine LLP's Intellectual Property group.

Protecting your company's intellectual property is one way to do that.

"There are various intellectual property rights that are used to protect market share," says Eley. "Patent rights protect business methods, processes, devices or designs."

If a process or method is critical to your bottom line and is not patented, consider patenting it now.

There are three primary reasons for seeking patent protection: to prevent others from copying your products, to license the product to other companies or users and to sell the patent to another company.

"There are many factors that go into that decision," Eley says. "Simple patents can cost $5,000, while more complicated ones can run more than $20,000."

When a company is seeking to prevent copying or theft, it needs to justify the patent's cost.

"In some cases, patenting the product means market exclusivity. If not, there needs to be a revenue stream," Eley says.

If the company is new or presenting a new product that may be attractive to larger corporations, patents are vital, says Eley.

Copyrights and trademarks also offer protection. Trademarks can be valuable when competitors introduce similar products, while copyrights protect software, music and published products.

But having property rights doesn't mean a thing if you aren't enforcing them.

"A company's biggest vulnerability to theft is not enforcing its rights," Eley says.

He advises companies to police the market and take action when potential infringements are discovered.

"Without enforcement, the value of the protection is diminished," says Eley. "It should be considered a cost of doing business. People will take advantage of your company if you don't."

Taking action means talking to your attorney.

"I look at the situation and give an opinion yes or no if the other company is infringing and advise the client accordingly," Eley says.

In some cases, the next step is a letter to the infringing company asking it to cease and desist.

"A letter puts the opposing company on notice and lets it know damages are starting to accrue," Eley adds. Kelly Kagamas Tomkies (ktomkies@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN Magazine.

Spam mail

A recent court decision gives you the ability to stop unwanted e-mail.

Spam can be more than annoying -- it can also affect your employees' productivity and morale.

And spam doesn't always mean unwanted sales solicitations, as Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel discovered. A lawsuit, Intel v. Hamidi, led to the recent California Court of Appeals' decision that businesses do not have to put up with spam.

Ken Hamidi, a former Intel worker, was sending mass e-mails to Intel employees regarding his belief that it discriminates against employees. Intel sued him in 1998, saying he was trespassing, since he was using Intel's private e-mail system.

In 1999, California Superior Court Judge Lewis ruled in favor of Intel and ordered Hamidi to stop the e-mails. Hamidi filed an appeal, but the California Court of Appeals upheld the decision late in 2001.

Jeff Smith, partner at Thompson Hine LLP's Columbus office and a member of its e-Business Steering Committee, says the decision is welcomed.

"All too often, a business's own communication systems are abused by those seeking to do it harm," Smith says. "It's like paying for the bullets used to shoot you. In today's world, your cyberproperty is every bit as important as your real estate, and trespass on either deserves no tolerance."

Finding help

For more information on intellectual property issues, check out these sites.

http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright

The government's Copyright Office site provides general information, answers frequently asked questions and provides the latest news and developments in changing copyright laws.

www.uspto.gov

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's site offers a searchable database of granted and pending patents as well as patent news and information.

www.abanet.org/intelprop/home.html

The American Bar Association provides its members information and news on intellectual property law.

www.wipo.org

The World Intellectual Property Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations whose goal is to administer 21 international treaties dealing with intellectual property protection. The site's Information Center provides worldwide news and trends.

www.inta.org

Discussion groups, news and government briefs are part of the International Trademark Association's site. This group also educates business, the media and the public on the proper use of trademarks.