Facebook’s “Trademark Bullying” Should Serve as an IP Strategy Lesson for Startup Entrepreneurs

This week, Facebook’s trademark action against a small online teaching company has been all over the news.  In summary, Facebook contends that TeachBook infringes its trademark rights in the “Facebook” name because, presumably, the “book” part of the name is associated in the minds of the relevant consumer public with the now well-known Facebook brand.  Today, it was reported that Facebook is now trying to own the rights to the “face” part of its name. Most wouldn’t be surprised that the word “book” is used as a part of the name of a multitude of products and services, which would make it appear that Facebook is using its resources to beat up on smaller companies.  The natural response from the layperson is “why is Facebook being such a trademark bully?”   But to someone with experience in IP strategy, the business reasons behind Facebook’s actions are clear. From a legal perspective, Facebook likely has little legal standing to extend its trademark rights in a direction that will allow it own either “face” or “book” as individual aspects of future trademarks in as-yet-introduced third party products or services.  These words are just too non-specific and common to legally signify the source of Continue Reading →

Contrarian Viewpoint: Patents Likely Matter Little to US Innovation and Job Creation

Many experts insist that innovation cannot succeed without patents, and that the delays in the US Patent Office stifle innovation.  This viewpoint is like to become more widely believed by the public as US Patent Office Director Stephen Kappos sees a way to improve the dismal operations of the Patent Office by equating patents as job creation tools, which necessarily requires patents to be asserted as critical for innovation to occur. I believe it is highly misleading, and even harmful in many cases, to say that patents are the end-all be-all to innovation.  I also think that fixing the Patent Office–which will invariably mean that more people will see value in obtaining patents to support their business idea–should be viewed more as a job creation engine for patent attorneys and those who support them (including Patent Office employees), as opposed to creating jobs that can help improve the dismal employment figures the US is experiencing today. No doubt, it is true that patents are necessary to create value from many innovations, and that jobs can then result when the patent owner is able to build a business around the idea (assuming the company and its employees are actually present in Continue Reading →

An Innovation Expert Sticks Up for IP Lawyers!

Regular readers of this blog know that I strongly believe that IP lawyers can do a whole lot more to better serve the needs of innovation teams.  Much of the disconnect between what IP lawyers do and those of their innovation clients can be traced to misalignment of incentives, as well as a structural and cultural impediments that makes it difficult for legal and business experts to communicate and work well together.  Last week, along with my good friend Deb Mills-Scofield and Mike Riegsecker of Menasha Packaging, I co-led a workshop on this topic at the 2nd Annual Open Innovation Summit.  The workshop was well-attended, and the response was very positive. Also, it appears that my message got through to at least one attendee, who is a prominent innovation consultant.  Keven McFarthing of Innovation Fixer wrote this post in which he asks open innovation professionals to not just look at their IP lawyer as an “extraneous irritant,” but instead as a member of the team.  Kevin also provides these recommendations: Ideally, make the lawyer a member of the formal team. If that can’t happen, treat them as if they are on the team. Don’t leave the final decision up to Continue Reading →

2 Ways to Reduce Open Innovation Risk: Convert the Naysayers and Bring on the Seasoned Veterans

Open Innovation is risky.  It’s like letting a stranger in your house to see what valuables are there for the taking, and letting them keep the key to your secrets even after you finish working with them.  For some, this perception of risk is enough to stop any attempts of Open Innovation in its tracks.  Other corporations respond to the risk by “lawyering up,” which, at a minimum, markedly increases the costs of proceeding or, at worst, causes the relationship to break down before any collaboration can occur.  And I, as IP counsel to a number of corporations in my prior life, must admit to being responsible for shutting down Open Innovation due to my role as IP risk the person responsible for mitigating my clients’ IP risk. After leaving the Friendly Confines of defined roles and responsibilities set out in my corporate and law firm life where it was clear that my job was to stop risky behavior, I now realize that this approach to risk mitigation was, quite simply, wrong-headed and misdirected.  Indeed, halting or slowing third party collaboration as a result of perceived risk is actually more risky than taking the leap into Open Innovation.  I mean, Continue Reading →

Corporate Business Leaders: Want to Create Value from Your IP? Stop Making it Your Lawyers’ Problem.

One of the biggest complaints I get from corporate innovation and product development professionals is how risk averse their lawyers tend to be about dealing with intellectual property (“IP”) issues.  It doesn’t matter whether these business people are talking about their outside or in-house lawyers, either.  To a person, the complaint generally tracks the contention that their IP lawyers “don’t get what they do” and, as a result, make it more difficult for them to meet the objective of adequately filling their product pipelines and introducing innovative new products that will keep the lights on at their corporations. I have written and spoken about this topic on several occasions.  But, recently, I have been thinking a lot about the issue of risk aversion and IP lawyers for a couple of reasons. First, I am co-leading a workshop at the 2nd Annual Open Innovation Summit next week in Chicago with my good friend Deb Mills-Scofield and Mike Riegsecker of Menasha Packaging.  In this workshop, we are going to discuss our experiences with corporate culture and incentives as these relate to achieving success in the world of Open Innovation.   Much of what I am going to talk about is how those seeking Continue Reading →