trademark litigation, trade dress litigation, licensing & franchising, trademark searches & analysis, trademark registration, trade dress registration, office actions, responding to oppositions
A company’s intellectual property is often far more valuable than its tangible property. For example, you may be far more concerned if an employee passed your design for a product to a competitor than if a thief stole a unit of this product. You may even be more concerned if someone stole your logo than if they stole a unit of the product. If competitor starts using your interior decor or color scheme on its packaging, you may be extremely concerned. And rightfully so.
Once a company’s name or logo, decor, or packaging design starts to become recognizable to its consumers, consumers start to associate a level of quality with those trademarks and, obviously, associate those trademarks with the company that produces the products that bear the trademarks. Developing that association in the mind of consumers takes time and a great deal of capital investment over the course of time. This is why trademarks are so valuable and worth protecting. This is also why competitors may try to use similar looking names or images with their own product – these are infringers trying to capitalize on the hard work and capital a company may have invested into its trademarks over the course of years. On the other hand, sometimes overly aggressive companies may try to stop your business from using your own imagery or language, claiming it is too similar to theirs. You may believe they have gone too far. Again, because trademarks are so valuable, they can lead to serious disputes.
The same goes for information such as customer data, sales records, internal system processes, and so on. Intellectual Property has so much value because it is, in many ways, the blueprint of a business or a product. It is the culmination of years of time and money investment. Intellectual Property enables a business to replicate success and build even more returns over the course of time. In short, intellectual property is worth protecting!
It is far easier to protect something from being stolen than it is to retrieve it after it has been stolen. There are many ways to protect intellectual property. For certain kinds of intellectual property, both state and federal agencies allow registration. Registration exists for trademarks, copyrights and patents. These registrations are published and this way competitors and consumers are aware of who owns this intellectual property. The law affords a great deal of additional protection for registered intellectual property in comparison to intellectual property that is not registered. To be clear, just because intellectual property is not registered does not mean it cannot be protected for certain. However, protection may be far more difficult and costly for intellectual property that is not registered. If cautionary steps were taken in advance, stopping infringers later will be easier. For example, a lawsuit over a trademark that was registered will take less effort, time and resources than a trademark that was not registered. In fact, if the trademark was registered, a plaintiff may be awarded more damages, such as attorneys’ fees.
For other kinds of intellectual property, commonly referred to as trade secrets, registration may not be available because not all intellectual property is afforded protection by registration. The best way to protect this type of intellectual property is through employment agreements and internal company policies that restrict employees’ ability to share the intellectual property with outsiders.
Companies who let third-parties use their intellectual property must be very careful to restrict this usage. For example, a foreign company must insert language into its US distribution agreements stating very clearly what the US distributor can and cannot do with the foreign company’s trademarks. Without such caution, the manufacturer may find that the US distributor is using the manufacturer’s trademark as its own, going so far as to register it with the US government under its ownership.
Stopping Infringers & Responding to Claims of Infringement
Sometimes, despite every precaution, a competitor starts using a company’s intellectual property. Such claims can be pursued in state and federal courts. In such cases, the plaintiff must demonstrate that it has rightful ownership in the first place and that the defendant infringed on the plaintiff’s rightful ownership. Or a company can be falsely accused of using intellectual property. Not all intellectual property is protectable, even if it is registered. An overly aggressive company may be attempting to claim industry terms or marketing language for its own exclusive usage, but the law may not agree. Such claims must be carefully scrutinized and may be able to be defended against.
How long will a dispute last?
Our goal is to understand the facts thoroughly to determine if it is possible to end the dispute quickly by settlement in a way that is acceptable to you. This could take weeks or months, depending on both parties’ willingness to compromise for the sake of resolution. But if none of the quick settlement options are within your comfort level, then we focus on the longer term dispute, which in some instances, can take a year to several years. Our goal is for you to understand your strengths and weaknesses in the dispute so that you are empowered to make decisions that are best for your company’s future while keeping an eye on cost. Rest assured though, the Atom Law Group team will not be shy about giving you a frank opinion on your risks based on years of dealing with such disputes.