Tesla Releases Patents to Open Market

Tesla Motors recently surprised the business world by releasing their patents to the open market, meaning their engineered technology can now be utilized by direct competitors. Perhaps even more surprising is business analysts are already hailing CEO Elon Musk’s bold decision as a savvy business plan.

Many observers viewed Tesla’s patents as a major competitive advantage – so why release it to their competitors? Analysts mark that Tesla’s situation is unique as electric cars are considered an emerging technology. Recent figures from 2013 indicate these cars are responsible for less than 1% of all traffic, a number that closely relates to total sales. Tesla is banking on increased competition similarly increasing the demand for electric cars overall – what better choice than the company that opened the door?

It’s a stark contrast to intellectual property wars constantly dominating American headlines in recent months. Companies like Apple have even been accused as being ‘patent trolls’, entities that impede the regular advancement of technology. The key differences in patent philosophy between companies like Apple and Tesla certainly suggest the issue of intellectual property is a complex issue.

Tesla’s strategy is considered non-translatable across many industries. Biotech startups could easily sink their operation by making their drug patents available to the open market. Large pharmaceutical agencies and generic drug manufacturers would be able to copy the drug and utilize their existing systems to force the startup out of business. Examples like this suggest intellectual property rights will always have their place in the market on some level.

The traditional argument for legal patents is they provide startups with the ability to protect their technology against larger incumbents, parties which could potentially box them out of the market. The decision to release Tesla’s patents almost certainly would prove disastrous had they lacked the means to produce their cars on a major scale.

For now Tesla Motors is comfortable enough with their hand to invite more players to the table. While time will ultimately decide whether the gamble pays off, it certainly bodes well for consumers in the near future.

Original story reported by Entrepreneur

Posted in Intellectual Property | Tagged , , , |

Trade Secrets: Hacked and Unaware

We are not an IT Security company.  We are a law firm that focuses on protecting your intellectual property.  But in today’s world, everything is on the computer, and therefore, computers are where, and how, trade secrets are stolen.

Bloomberg recently reported on a study that happened to be conducted in the United Arab Emirates, but which has sobering lessons for us all.  You might expect the UAE, with all their money and sunshine to be able to afford the best and brightest computer security people from all over the world.  (Actually, the story of wealth in the UAE is more complex than that).  But the study claims that fully 90% of companies there, that have been attacked by cybercriminals are unaware of the fact.

Protect your trade secrets, by all means possible. 

You can watch a world map of hacking attempts, in near real-time, here.  It is animated in a “War Games” style to make a point.  Once the shock of what you are looking at wears off, you need to make some calls and start improving your IT setup.  Don’t make it easy for them.

Posted in Trade Secrets |

Beautiful Risk-Takers Plan 2,250-foot Tower in Yuma

We are an Arizona Intellectual Property law firm.  We deal with inventors, entrepreneurs and risk-takers.  What they do is risky and beautiful – awe-inspiring, at times.  This article (link below) updates us on the story of a technology that works on paper, but can’t be demonstrated at less than full scale.  That makes the project more of a leap of (faith?  science?) than usual.

The prize, if they are successful?  Clean energy creation, night and day, at rates 60% lower than other green technologies (like solar), for an estimated one-million people.  That is a high goal to shoot for.  The perfect location:  Yuma, Arizona.

Full Disclosure:  Solar Wind Energy (Maryland) is not a client of ours.  This is not a puff-piece for their project.  It’s pure admiration.  Follow the link and look at the artist’s rendition.  Who wouldn’t want to build that thing?

There are informed critics and naysayers, of course. 

The creativity and spirit of the inventors and backers is something to be proud of.  We are privileged to work with creative people who pursue their bold dreams.  May they never stop inventing.

Original article in the Washington Post

Posted in Uncategorized |

Before You Accuse Trade Secrets Theft: Consider the Source

Theft of trade secrets is something you want to avoid, of course.  When it is first suspected, the evidence is often sketchy, and often pivots on one person’s word.  You may feel grateful to the reporter, who after all, may be saving you millions of dollars by reporting early.  You want to act quickly – but not too quickly.

This article reports on a case in which the person who reported the crime turned out to be unreliable.  After the defendant was acquitted of the theft of trade secrets, he found himself jobless and having spent all his money on a legal defense.  He then turned around and filed defamation libel suits against his accuser, and now the appeals court is allowing the civil suits to move forward.

The article considers the issue of when an employee reports a trade secret violation, but does so not in the company’s best interest, but for personal reasons.  There are repercussions for this, as the case shows.  Investigate reports of trade secrets violations thoroughly, including the source.

Original analysis in Lexology, but Teresa M. Thompson and Kristen M. Barlow Rand.

Posted in Trade Secrets |

Software Can Be Patented – But There Are Exceptions

Today the Supreme Court of the United States tossed out a software patent claim by Australian Alice Corporation, saying that the method claims were “abstract,” required only “generic” implementation, and fell short of a patent-eligible invention.  The media are reporting this decision as a victory for software companies, and a blow to “patent trolls.”  Many comments from around the industry are reported in this Forbes blog post

Software patents have been, and will continue to be, a controversial area.  On one hand, good software does require investment in research and production.  Without protection, the incentive to undertake that work will not exist.  On the other hand, some software patents seem, well, ridiculous

Intellectual Property Law is an especially dizzying area where what appears as plain common sense, at first glance, turns out to be very subtle, and very different, under the law.  If you are a coder who has developed something new, and want to protect and develop it, get good legal advice, and get it early.

Original Article in the Washington Post.

Posted in Patent Law |

IKEA, Ikeahackers, and the “Streisand Effect”

A worldwide community – a subculture, some might say – grew up around the IKEA stores.  They call themselves IKEAhackers, and they love to create and share great ideas for repurposing all kinds of items you find in an IKEA store, into something else.  It’s a good example of how the internet can amplify the solo experience of “Hey, I bet I could take this and make a …” into a movement.  It solidified around the blog ikeahackers.net.

If you haven’t seen these creations, they are wonderful, inspiring, frugal, beautiful – all good things.

But recently, IKEA moved to protect their trademark, and sent a cease-and-desist letter to ikeahackers.net, sending shockwaves through the community.  Shouldn’t they be delighted at the creativity, the energy, the free showcase?  Why?  (See the original article, below, for IKEA’s explanation to the Washington Post.)

IKEA’s response is quite informative, and reveals a side of the matter that the general public may not understand.  Recommended reading.

Of course, this is easily cast as “corporate giant vs. the little guy” and some will only see it in those terms.  Whether you are the Goliath or the David, if you are operating in the public square, you need to understand, or have an advisor who can advise you on, intellectual property rights.

Original article in The Washington Post blog.

Posted in Trademarks |

“I’m Just a Small Business. I Have No Intellectual Property”

This article in Forbes has good advice for any small business:  Take stock of your IP assets now, and prepare for the future.

Few small businesses start with a strategy and a long-term view.  We are all too busy making each day pay for itself.  At some point, in the middle, you stop and ask yourself:  “Am I covered?  Am I exposed?  Can someone else lay claim to what I have created?”

As the author, Mary Juetten, points out, if you only have a company name, you have intellectual property.  Make a list of all the IP you can think of.  Act quickly to protect your brands.  Spend the time and energy needed to create good contracts, so that you don’t inadvertently lose your rights to your creations.  And get lined up with a good IP attorney! 

If you think you have no intellectual property to protect or develop, you may be in for some nasty surprises.  Taking action today is the key to facing future risks without fear. 

Posted in Intellectual Property |

Yankee Inventor: Eli Whitney

The Huffington Post has a listing of “9 Innovative Museums Your Kids Will Love.”  This summer, inspire your kids with a love for invention, innovation, and industry by including one of these in your vacation plans.

One of the museums, in Connecticut, is dedicated to one of the great inventors of American history.  Eli Whitney’s life and story contain many lessons that need remembering today.  Rightfully considered a father of “American Technology,” his achievements and name are fading from our consciousness.  One wonders whether, on a Cash Cab “Red-Light Challenge,” he would be mentioned alongside Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, and Steve Jobs (!).

Whitney had an innate aptitude – a genius — with anything mechanical.  By employing his creative gifts to solve a problem in local agriculture, he transformed cotton into a major cash crop.  He later advanced the value of interchangeable parts, especially in terms of military armaments. 

Whitney had trouble with the Patent Office and failed to capitalize fully on the value of his invention.  He was plagued with unauthorized copies of his cotton gin and mill machinery, which made fortunes for others.  Despite these problems, in his business affairs, he recognized the value of surrounding oneself with capable people.  An inventor needs protection for his or her ideas, but also needs a team to bring them into the real world.

Are you creative?  An inventor?  The world of intellectual property is complicated. Make competent, experienced patent attorneys an integral part of your team.  They may save you millions.

Posted in Patent Law |

Phoenix Hockey Team Trademark Flap

An Arizona man has registered a number of trade names with the state of Arizona, including Phx Suns, Phx Cardinals, AZ Diamondbacks, and … Arizona Coyotes.  The problem is that the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team (yes, there is ice hockey in Phoenix) recently announced their name change to Arizona Coyotes – a team name for which (it turns out) they do not hold the trademark. 

Original Article in AZCentral (with video)

This same man had registered the name “Phoenix Open” with the Arizona Secretary of State, but dropped it when sued by the sponsors of the tournament.  Sued?  It turns out that under the law, it’s not as simple as just beating someone to registration and then forcing them to negotiate.  The courts also look at your association with the trade name (in this case, apparently no association) and the likelihood that consumers would be confused.  These kinds of matters get litigated.

There can be legitimate conflicting claims on a trade name, and they are sometimes subtle and difficult to sort out.  The smaller party is not necessarily trying to exploit the larger – that’s not the only narrative that fits these facts.  But before you plan your business around trade names, get the advice of a good IP law firm.

Posted in Trademarks |

Arizona Participation in Electric Car Manufacturing?

Southwestern states are vying to become the location for the $5 billion Tesla “gigafactory,”  now that it has been reported that California has been eliminated as a potential site.  Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona are often cited as leading candidates, with the cities of Mesa and Tucson having already made formal proposals.

According to this article, a new Arizona company’s offer to supply domestically-sourced Manganese and other metals may help tip the scales in Arizona’s favor. The major cost driver for electric cars is the battery. which requires lithium and an array of other metals to manufacture.  As of 2011, 97% of these metals were sourced from China, mostly for cost reasons.  Obviously, that’s not a strong starting point for the future of clean American transportation.

The Arizona mining company, American Manganese Inc., has received a patent for its manganese refining process, and is reported to be able to deliver the metals at significantly lower cost than the imported alternative sources.  In addition, their process uses much less energy and has a greener footprint, overall.

Posted in Arizona Patent News |