Archive for the 'Intellectual Property' CategoryPage 2 of 10

Tesla Motors Will Release Its Patents – Should Other Companies Do the Same?

Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Product Officer of electric car producer Tesla Motors, recently announced that Tesla will release its patented technology to the public. Accompanying the announcement, Musk had harsh words for the patent system:

“When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.”

tesla motors elon muskMusk further commented,

“After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.”

The patent system was created to encourage innovation by granting inventors the exclusive right to sell or practice a product, design, or process. But Tesla recognizes that certain companies can benefit from non-exclusivity. Musk said,

“We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”

Tesla already enjoys a competitive advantage in the electric car space because of its pool of engineers and manufacturing facilities. Tesla needs a mainstream marketplace for its cars more than it needs exclusivity. Enter Ford, BMW, and Toyota. If the major car companies start mass-producing electric cars, Tesla will have more potential customers, and it will encourage companies to build charging stations and other infrastructure necessary for electric cars to flourish. If Tesla’s technology platform becomes the industry standard, Tesla can also sell its batteries and other components to other electric car manufacturers.

But while an open-source model may work for Tesla, inventors and start-ups trying to break into a market should continue to pursue patents for their innovations. Exclusivity can give a fledging company the competitive advantage its needs to grow, where it would otherwise be crushed by the entrenched heavyweights.

Patents have other benefits beyond exclusivity. A patent may be necessary if you intend to license your invention. If you are seeking investment, a patent may make your company more attractive to investors or venture capital firms. Patents can also be sold or used as collateral for loans or other financing. Musk admits that Tesla used its patents to obtain financing in the early days of Tesla.

Other innovative companies, like Apple, have aggressively defended their intellectual property, most notably through its recent high-profile lawsuits against Samsung over mobile phone technology. It remains to be seen whether other tech giants will follow Tesla’s lead. But for the majority of inventors and start-ups, a patent continues to be the tried and true way to bring new ideas to the market.

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Print Your Own Guns and More! – Legal Aspects of 3-D Printers

When shopping online, I often think how convenient it would be if I could get my purchases instantly, rather than having to wait for days while the items are shipped. This is the unmistakably a trade off with commerce on the Internet.

3-D printer legal issuesWell, it may not be a trade off for much longer. These days, people are already creating or purchasing files to print working guitars, camera lenses, bikinis, working guns… The list goes on.

It may sound a bit unreal, but it is entirely true. 3-D printing, also known as “additive manufacturing,” has been around since the 80s. As technology has progressed, so has the capacity and availability of these printers.

3-D printing is a process by which the printer reads a file and then uses a filler to follow and build the design through a design of vertical and horizontal cross sections. These fillers can range from polymers to metals to paper and pretty much anything in between. This is definitely an over-simplification, but you get the picture – much like a common, household printer, a file tells the printer to follow a design. The primary difference is that the end result is not ink on a paper, but a strong filler formed into an object.

1. Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is going to be the biggest area of concern when 3-D printers become widespread. Remember when sites like Napster used to get sued, and then their users started getting sued? Well, imagine that, but potentially on a wider scale.

Copyright covers a physical manifestation of an expression, which gave rise to litigation over MP3s and music licensing. Likewise, 3-D printing certainly has the potential for copyright infringement. For example, if someone uses a 3-D printer to recreate a sculpture or a statue of an artist they love, and the time frame of protection is still in force, that individual may be liable for copyright infringement.

Similarly, some unique product designs that may be essentially replicated by these printers could trigger trademark law. A useful example would be Ray Bans or an easily recognizable type of gym weight that could basically be copied for nothing and dilute the images of those brands.

Finally, and I think most pressing, are patent issues. I think these will prove complicated because the time it takes to actually file a patent could likely far exceed the time it takes to replicate the invention. Moreover, the software used in these machines has been the real crux of the innovation, and perhaps ironically, may be what ties it up, once the patents start to and continue to roll in. Furthermore, because of the wide array of patentable material, combined with an invention that could ostensibly create it with a few keystrokes, these printers may essentially clog an already clogged PTO indefinitely. What’s more, the patents covering certain materials used in the printing process have recently expired, drastically reducing the costs of these materials and therefore increasing their availability.

2. Regulation

This is probably not everyone’s favorite word, but “who will regulate this stuff?” should at least be a passing thought when the idea of printable weapons comes to mind.

It certainly has been on the mind of the Department of Homeland Security, who has begun lobbying for federal and state legislation regarding efforts to at least try to control the dissemination of 3-D printing files for functioning guns. Some legislatures have suggested regulating printers themselves, completely eliminating the ability to print weapons. This would clearly invoke free speech rights and could have a disastrous effect on an otherwise profitable, legal enterprise.

Plus, with the availability of almost anything on the Internet through peer-to-peer sites, it is perhaps a pipedream to imagine such regulation could be feasible in the first place.

The prospect of printing a small boat or musical instrument from the comfort of home is a staggering one, and one that we will likely see in our lifetime. But if you ask me, watching how governments and society responds to this technology will be just as interesting as type of products these printers can create.

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Spotify: The Next Generation of (Legal) Online Music

Since the beginning of the Internet, people have been finding new and creative ways to play, buy, and steal music online.

SpotifyNapster pioneered the first mainstream pirating software, allowing users to swap individual Mp3s and malware over 1999 dial-up modems. However, the law quickly caught up with them when Metallica got angry and sued all of their fans for copyright infringement, and Napster eventually had to shut down that business model. So went the way of Kazaa and Limewire.

Next, websites like PirateBay introduced torrents, allowing users to download full high quality albums at faster speeds for a superior music stealing experience. However, this led to more legal battles, and even some international arrests. Still, the U.S. has had a hard time shutting down many of these oversea artist-starvers.

Somewhere along the way, iTunes began offering a legal alternative where users could download individual songs and albums for a small fee, though many still found this to be more expensive than music stealing.

Fortunately, today there is a new player on the block that delivers free music with all of the ethics of being a law-abiding citizen who compensates artists for their work. Meet Spotify.

What Is Spotify and How Is It Legal?
Spotify is the new music streaming software that allows users to play just about any song ever on their computer for free. For premium service (at $9.99 a month) users can even make and share playlists and stream music from their phones, cars, TVs, and other mobile devices without ads.

Spotify makes this all legal by contracting with countless record labels and artists for the rights to stream music in exchange for royalties.

Each month, Spotify takes in revenue from user fees and ads. Spotify then keeps 30% percent of the revenue for themselves and divvies up the remaining 70% to the record labels and artists.

The record labels and artists each receive a small portion of the distributed royalties based on the percentage of Spotify “plays” they received that month.

Thus, artists don’t earn a set fee per Spotify play. Rather, their total play-count is calculated as a percentage off all the plays on Spotify, which then determines their cut of the revenue.

For example, a band that receives .001% of all the Spotify plays in a month will receive .001% of the distributed royalties that month.

So Artists Are Making Lots of Money from Spotify?
Not really. Currently Spotify is not generating enough user revenue to offer very substantial royalty distributions. Further, most of the music on Spotify is contracted through record labels, so record labels are generally getting a large cut of the royalty distribution before the artists get anything.

However, with only 30 million users, Spotify has a lot of room to grow as people catch on. The more users Spotify has, the more revenue Spotify will generate, and the more artists will get paid. But, for now, you can at least enjoy free music without having to litigate Metallica.

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Christian Louboutin: Lawsuits for Fashion

The renowned fashion designer Christian Louboutin is one of the first people in the fashion industry to adamantly enforce his branding and designs rights. Although he is often disparaged for his extreme litigiousness, it’s a fact that he’s setting a precedent for the other fashion houses and revolutionizing the fashion industry.

Christian Louboutin LawsuitChristian Louboutin is the owner of all red sole shoes and he would like the world to know it. He first started making red sole shoes over 20 years ago when he painted red nail polish on the soles of a pair of shoes. He is not afraid to sue other shoemakers and to develop a reputation of being a vexatious litigant.

This ownership battle started in April 2011 when Louboutin sued Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) for trademark infringement of his red soles. The specific shoe in question is a pair of monochromatic red pumps. Although he filed for trademark protection in 2008, YSL questioned its legitimacy. After all, Louboutin claims he is the owner of the color red and that no other shoemaker is allowed to use red.

During this 18 months lawsuit, Louboutin stuck to his beliefs even after Judge Victor Merrero denied his request for a preliminary injunction to prevent YSL from selling those monochromatic red shoes. Luckily for Louboutin, the case eventually went up to the New York federal appeals court, and the judge stated that he did indeed have a valid trademark for red soles but with a contrasting upper only. Thus, Louboutin can prevent others from making shoes with a distinctive red sole only when the shoe is not entirely red.

Louboutin has subsequently brought a string of similar lawsuits—some successful, other’s not so much. Even if you view such litigation as unnecessary or ridiculous, he is making the point clear that fashion trademarks actually hold legal significance. Other fashion designers can review cases brought by Louboutin to learn how to protect their designs from infringement.

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Google Glasses Legal Issues

With the brave new frontier of Google Glasses just on the horizon, there are a lot of interesting legal issues that legislators and courts will need to address. Can the glasses be worn while driving? Will the glasses violate privacy rights? These and other pressing issues are addressed below.

google glassAccidents Caused by Distraction

One basic issue that will come with the widespread use of Google Glasses is accidents caused by Glassing on the move. Whether one is stuck in traffic during rush hour or zipping through city streets on a bike – Google Glass will be there to distract.

Most current traffic laws permit hands-free mobile device use for conversation and navigation, but may prohibit front-seat entertainment video screens visible to the driver. Here, Google Glass will be hands free for navigation purposes, but who knows what drivers will actually be watching.

To resolve this issue, state legislators could take measures to strictly ban all Google Glass use while driving cars, bikes, and other vehicles. Alternatively, perhaps Google can add a “drive-mode” feature that restricts Google Glass use to only permissible features while the user is driving.

In the meantime, anyone who falls victim to a Google Glasser on the road may be able to look up the driver’s Glass-history to find out what exactly they were watching at the time of the accident. This can help prove negligence and enforce safe Glass driving practices before the rest of the laws catch up.

Intellectual Property Issues

The next set of Google Glass woes may come to movie theaters, concert halls, and any other entities trying to protect their intellectual property rights. Here, Google Glasses will make it ever-easier to snap a photo or video with the wink of an eye and record copyrighted material or document a company’s trade secrets.

However, smart-phones have already leaked miniature cameras into every forum imaginable, and in some ways Google Glasses may be less discrete than a sneaked smart-phone camera. Expect to see Google-Glass prohibitions in most entertainment forums. Companies trying to protect trade secrets can certainly maintain policies prohibiting cameras in areas with secret documents.

Discoverable Evidence

Sometimes at trial an attorney may say something like, “unfortunately, unlike CSI we can’t just go back in time and watch a video of what actually happened.” With Google Glass, that may no longer be the case.

With millions of little video cameras wandering around the streets on people’s faces, it will become all the more likely that torts and crimes will be documented.

These videos and pictures may come from the victim, the perpetrator, or a passerby. So, if you happen to witness an accident with your Google Glasses on, don’t be surprised if you receive a discovery request from an attorney requiring you to hand-over all of your Google Glass data related to the incident.

Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

On the one hand, the increased documentation of events will help courts solve crimes and reach just outcomes. However, what affect will this have on our privacy rights?

The Fourth Amendment protects all persons from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. A search is considered unreasonable if it violates a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, a Federal Judge recently ruled that the NSA violated reasonable expectations of privacy by intercepting private phone records.

However, what happens to one’s reasonable expectation of privacy if we can reasonably expect everything we do to be documented by Google Glass. As our privacy expectations decrease, will police ability to reasonably document citizen activity increase?

Further, with face recognition technologies, will police be able to scan the streets with Google Glasses and pick up anyone with outstanding warrants or unpaid parking tickets?

Time will tell how legislators and courts respond to the tough legal questions raised by these brave new technologies. However, undoubtedly, any solutions reached will only be muddled by whatever must-have cyborg technology Google has in store for us next.

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