4 most famous copyright cases

Like patents and trademarks, copyrights are a form of intellectual property protection. In fact, copyrights are used to protect works of authorship that are original and are fixed in a tangible form. This means that copyrights can be used to protect drawings, photographs, compositions, audio recordings, books, films, plays, computer programs, blog posts and additional creations.

In order to obtain and enforce a copyright, it is essential to have the copyright recorded with the U.S. Copyright Office. The author of the created work typically is the owner of the copyright, though it is possible to assign ownership to an individual or entity, such as if the work was created in the course of the creator’s employment.

Moreover, it is possible for a copyright owner to grant permission to others to use all or a portion of their original work. Such agreements may involve the payment of fees to the copyright owner to compensate them for their work.

Unfortunately, many people and organizations don’t understand the finer points of U.S. copyright law. This may lead them to inadvertently use something that does not belong to them. Examples of this may include quoting from someone else’s book without citing the source or using a portion of another’s song in a sound recording. When a person features a photograph on their website that was taken by someone else, this also may be copyright infringement if permission was not obtained.

While some cases of copyright infringement are accidental or unintentional, others are not so innocent. Occasionally, someone will deliberately use all or a portion of someone else’s work and pass it off as their own.

Whether the infringement is accidental or intentional, the responsibility for enforcing their rights falls to the copyright owner.

Some copyright disputes become so heated that they turn into litigation. Other cases manage to avoid a trial, but they still undergo an intense and very public battle to determine who unfairly borrowed from someone else’s work.

Here is a look at some of the most famous copyright cases.

David Bowie and Queen vs. Vanilla Ice

The music industry is rife with copyright disputes. Songs may be protected in two ways with copyrights. These protections include coverage for the composition and for the sound recording of the composition. If someone wants to legally use any part of a song that is protected by copyright, then it may be necessary to obtain two licenses from the copyright owner. A sync license may be granted for the composition while a master-use license is needed for the sound recording. Accordingly, it may be necessary to obtain the permission of the songwriter, the performer, the record label and the producer.

When Vanilla Ice released his song “Ice Ice Baby” in 1990, listeners couldn’t help but hear that the bass line was incredibly similar to that used in the 1981 collaboration between David Bowie and Queen entitled “Under Pressure.”

Lawyers working for Bowie and Queen threatened to sue Vanilla Ice for copyright infringement. Vanilla Ice responded by saying that the bass lines were different as his melody included an additional note.

However, the difference was considered inconsequential, and he was sued. The case was settled out of court. While the amount of the settlement was not made publicly available, experts speculate that paying Bowie and Queen for a license would have been far less expensive than paying the out of court settlement proved to be.

Similar examples are found throughout the industry. One of the earliest of these occurred in the 1960s when Chuck Berry’s representatives accused the Beach Boys of plagiarizing one of Berry’s songs. The allegations centered on the Beach Boys’ song “Surfin’ USA,” which Berry accused of being a copy of his 1958 release “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

This one didn’t come down to a lawsuit, but it certainly established a precedent for the need for artists to protect their work.

Star Wars vs. Battlestar Galactica

If you were a fan of science fiction living in the late 1970s, it was a great time to be alive. With the release of the first Star Wars film in 1977, sci-fi films and television series took the world by storm.

Following Star Wars’ success in 1978, the first episode of Battlestar Galactica aired on television. From a ratings perspective, it performed fairly well. It only lasted for one season that consisted of 24 episodes. It seemed that the series was destined to be quickly forgotten.

However, the short-lived television series did make an impression on executives at Twentieth Century-Fox, the studio responsible for Star Wars. Fox sued Universal Pictures because of Battlestar Galactica, claiming that the series was clear copyright infringement on Star Wars.

In all, Fox listed more than 30 similarities that they alleged were infringing. The case lasted much longer than the television series, dragging on for half a decade only to be settled out of court. This left the allegations largely unresolved.

Why did the two sides settle without going to trial? It likely is because Fox would have had a difficult time proving that Battlestar Galactica was truly infringing rather than just being a copycat. Lawyers representing Star Wars would have had to prove that the elements at the heart of the case were original to Fox, that all of those elements qualified for copyright protection and that the TV series copied those elements.

Simply put, Fox had an uphill battle ahead of them. Settling out of court probably made a lot of sense for both parties.

James Dyson vs. Hoover

Not every copyright case is about an artistic endeavor like a song or a film. Sometimes, these cases are more technology driven.

This was the case in the 2001 legal matter between inventor James Dyson and vacuum cleaner maker Hoover.

Dyson had gained fame as an inventor for a bag-less vacuum that relied on two cyclones, one to pick up small objects and one to pick up larger items.

In the case, Dyson alleged that Hoover had infringed his design with their Triple Vortex model. Hoover argued that the technology behind Dyson’s Dual Cyclone was already well known in the industry, but the court didn’t buy it.

Instead, the court decided that Hoover had willfully copied the Dyson technology. At the same time, the court preserved Hoover’s right to use the “VORTEX” trademark on its vacuums.

Clearly, copyright cases can be extremely complicated, and they can spill over into trademark and patent territory as well.

Cariou vs. Prince

Here’s an interesting case that arose in 2011. Appropriation artist Richard Prince made changes to more than 40 images culled from a photography book by Patrick Cariou. Prince claimed that he had created something new with the photos, which meant that his work fell under the fair use doctrine. Cariou called the work copyright infringement.

The court ultimately decided for Cariou. According to the judge, the changes that Prince made to the photographs were not significant enough to change their meaning.

Prince appealed the ruling, and eventually won, with the court finding that the appropriated art had a different nature and target audience than the original works.

Should You Register a Copyright for Your Work?

Obtaining a registered copyright is a much less arduous process than obtaining a patent or registering a trademark. Nonetheless, a registered copyright gives the owner some incredibly useful and powerful tools should their rights ever be infringed.

Litigation is risky, and the outcome is never guaranteed. Accordingly, when infringement is suspected, it is always best to explore various avenues of resolution that don’t necessarily involve going to trial.

If you would like to register your work for a copyright or are concerned that someone has infringed your intellectual property rights, contact Williams IP Law for advice. We offer free initial consultations to new clients.

Who Invented the Car?

When it comes to American society and culture, few inventions have been as instrumental as the automobile. That leads many to assume that the car was invented in America, perhaps by Henry Ford.

However, this is not the case. Most historians agree that the first true automobile was invented by Karl Benz. His patented, three-wheeled Motor Car, which was popularly called the “Motorwagen,” was introduced in 1886. By most definitions, it can be considered the first of the modern automobiles.

Benz was a prolific inventor who also obtained official protection for a carburetor, a water radiator, gear shifters, spark plugs, a throttle system and a variety of other components that are considered basic to automobiles. You might even recognize the Daimler Group name, the car company that Benz founded.

Before Benz

While Karl Benz may have produced the first real-world, working automobile, he was not the first to imagine such a contraption.

No less a luminary than Leonardo da Vinci left numerous sketches of mechanized carts that did not require horses in the early 16th century. Inventors in China built wind-propelled sailing chariots quite early. Westerners were captivated with the idea, and by 1600, Holland had a sailing chariot that was capable of carrying nearly 30 people and could travel approximately 40 miles in a period of two hours.

A self-propelled steam-engine vehicle was built by France’s Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769. His invention was mainly used to move pieces of heavy artillery. It moved at a walking pace and operators had to stop at 20-minute intervals to give the machine the time it needed to build up additional steam.

Similarly, the meaning of “car” has morphed over the centuries. Drawing toward the close of the 19th century, many people were familiar with the word “streetcar,” which referred to a tram. Before this, people used “streetcar” to refer to omnibuses that ran on rails and were pulled by horses.

When the earliest cars were introduced, they frequently were referred to as “horseless carriages,” and the word “automobile” comes from the French.

What About Ford and Other Innovators?

Although Karl Benz is credited with manufacturing the first modern-day automobile, he certainly wasn’t alone in his efforts. Many other creative individuals were working on similar projects at the same time.

Henry Ford was just one of these. Historians agree that it was Ford who truly made cars accessible to the masses, changing driving from a hobby for the rich into a fundamental aspect of daily life for people in every social level.

Although Henry Ford did not invent the automobile or the assembly line, he is recognized as having been an innovator who combined the two and perfected the process of efficiently building cars.

Ford built his first automobile in 1896, with a second prototype following two years later. After establishing two car companies that failed, Ford finally started his namesake Ford Motor Company in 1903.

What made Ford’s most recent effort different from his earlier ventures? Instead of focusing on just manufacturing cars, he had turned his emphasis to producing cars in considerable volume. At the time, most companies that were building cars were operated by people who had been in the business of building coaches. These vehicles were built in time-consuming and laborious hands-on processes by master craftsmen. Accordingly, the cars produced by this company were expensive, and most people could not afford them.

Ford’s innovation was a desire to build “a motorcar for the great multitude.” The Model A and the Model N were already being produced and sold, but Ford now turned his attention to the Model T. When Ford introduced this car in 1908, it was probably the easiest car in existence in terms of drivability and repairs. This made the Model T extremely popular, but Ford was still determined to build more of them and lower the price.

That’s when Ford began manufacturing the Model T on an assembly line. The process was repeatedly tweaked and perfected until, in 1913, it was possible to built a Model T in a mere two and-a-half hours.

Internal Combustion Engines

Where would early cars be without the internal combustion engine? This type of engine relies upon the explosive combustion of fuel to push a piston that is housed within a cylinder. The movement of the piston turns the crankshaft, which is connected to the car’s wheels.

The earliest roots of the internal combustion engine go back to 1680 when Christiann Huygens designed an engine that was fueled by gunpowder. Unfortunately, Huygens was never able to build his design.

In 1826, an Englishman by the name of Samuel Brown retooled a steam engine so that it would burn gasoline. The engine was attached to a carriage, but his invention never really took off.

By 1873, American George Brayton had developed a two-stroke engine that ran on kerosene. In the same decade, a German inventor, Nikolaus August Otto patented a four-stroke engine.

French inventor Rudolf Diesel patented the diesel engine in 1895. His invention was highly efficient and featured a compression ignition.

The Road to Innovation Is Winding

As you can see, it is impossible to say that a major invention like the automobile can be attributed to just one person. Instead, there are incremental improvements, some of them occurring over centuries.

What will you create today that might inspire the inventors of tomorrow? It’s impossible to say, but it is essential that you protect your hard work by seeking patent protection.

Contact Williams IP Law today to schedule your free consultation.

9 Best Inventions of 2021

Every year, creative people continue to innovate and invent. They help to make life simpler, prolong life or make people more productive.

Across every industry, surprising and helpful inventions are introduced every year. Here is a look at some of the top inventions of 2021. How will they make your life better?


How many times have you come home with a take-out package of your favorite meal, only to find the next day that it’s become a soggy mess that hardly resembles its original state?

SAVRpak is designed to prevent this situation from ever happening again. Just put this peel-and-stick patch into any take-out container, paper bag or pizza box to keep your food fresh and as good as new. SAVRpak works by extracting moisture from the air that’s naturally found inside food containers before it can turn into condensation that settles on the food’s surface. This invention not only ensures that your take-out tastes better but also translates to less food waste.

OrCam Read

People across the world struggle with reading. Whether this struggle is caused by dyslexia, poor eyesight or difficulties with comprehension, many people find that their lifestyle is limited by their lack of ability to quickly and easily read text. OrCam Read aims to solve this problem by combining artificial intelligence with computer vision.

The technology is capable of reading any text out loud as a user aims the device’s laser frame at the text. After pressing a button, the device vocalizes it. The speaking voice sounds surprisingly natural, and it can read multiple languages. Capable of reading menus, books, computer screens, advertisements and more, the OrCam Read is bound to change lives for millions of people.

ENO SkyLite

Whether you are a serious backpacker or just want a more comfortable way to lounge in your yard, you’ll be fascinated by this high-end and innovative hammock. Backpackers love it because it’s incredibly lightweight. Instead of packing a tent and sleeping bag, they can just take this hammock and tarp along instead.

The ENO SkyLite has a pair of lightweight, removable aluminum bars on either side to support the hammock like a bed frame. The result is a stable, flat and supportive sleeping platform that is eminently portable. With a built-in bug net and canopy, the ENO SkyLite ensures pest-free sleeping no matter the conditions. A compression sack is attached, and it becomes a pocket when the hammock is in use. Use the pocket for holding a flashlight, phone, wallet and other necessities.

Sphero Indi

In today’s technology-driven world, learning to code is a basic skill from which more people could benefit. Sphero Indi is designed to help kids four and older learn to code in a manner that is surprisingly fun and creative.

This innovative teaching device essentially is a robotic toy car that children can instruct to run through a maze. As their skills progress, they also will solve numerous logic problems. This means that kids are learning essential programming skills through play, and this might help them to develop an interest that will stand the test of time.

Nuro R2

This self-driving electric delivery vehicle is designed to carry a variety of products to neighborhoods while prioritizing the safety of everyone in the vicinity.

The Nuro R2 is equipped with a multitude of tools that make it possible not only to improve its ride but also to protect anyone who might be outside of the vehicle. Equipped with 360-degree cameras, the R2 also is fitted with ultrasonic sensors and both long- and short-range radar. The Nuro R2 is intended to save people time and effort by delivering prescription drugs, groceries, pizzas and other necessities.

Starkey Livio AI – Advanced Hearing Aids

These intelligent hearing aids are designed to make life better by amplifying the sounds that the wearer wants to hear and diminishing background noises that they would prefer to ignore. These hearing aids are able to make as many as 55 million personalized adjustments 24 hours a day. This translates to genuine, realistic sound quality regardless of how loud the environment may be.

The Starkey Livio AI hearing aids are smart devices that connect to a smartphone to wirelessly monitor the wearer’s brain and physical activity to deliver live updates with impeccable quality of sound.


As the developer says in the literature, ProxyAddress is an address that follows you. Created in the U.K., ProxyAddress is intended to help tackle the problems associated with homelessness. A person who is homeless may lose their civic identity, making their existence even more unstable and causing them to lose basic services that they need and to which they are entitled.

ProxyAddress may not provide people with a home to live in, but it does give them an address that they can use while homeless so that they can receive services. Access to these services helps many people who are struggling get back on their feet.

Verilux CleanWave Sanitizing Wand

This convenient portable stick is capable of eliminating bacteria, germs and even odors so that people and their belongings can stay clean no matter where they go. Equipped with UV-C lights that are not harmful to skin, the CleanWave Sanitizing Wand is a disinfectant tool that can be used to clean tables, doors and a variety of other objects to help people stay healthy.

Solar Roadways

Recently approved by the FCC, Solar Roadways has the potential for life-changing transformations across the globe. The company developed hexagonally shaped solar road panels that have onboard microprocessors. These control the heating elements in the panel to prevent the accumulation of snow and ice. The panels further are equipped with LEDs for the illumination of road lines or to spell out information and warnings for drivers. Each panel is set up to be able to communicate with the others as well as with vehicles.

The plan is that these solar panels will be embedded into ordinary roads and highways everywhere. Thus, solar-powered cars will be able to charge up even while on the go.

Do you think we missed any amazing inventions on this list? Let us know in the comments.

Where Will Your Inventions Take You?

Contact Williams IP Law today to speak with a patent attorney about your life-changing ideas. Patent protection is an essential step that prevents others from taking advantage of your hard work and inspiration. Schedule a free consultation with a patent lawyer today.

How 3D Printing Affects Intellectual Property

Artists, designers and industries have always wrestled with the potential problem of intellectual property theft. Whether it’s fighting to fending off the malicious reproduction of closely guarded designs or trying to keep an eye on the distribution of licensed creations, the challenges of maintaining intellectual property rights are only getting more complicated as 3D printing increases in popularity.

What is 3D Printing?

Also called additive manufacturing, 3D printing uses a special type of printer and one of hundreds of manufacturing materials to create solid copies of objects. To make this possible, the objects are first scanned with a 3D scanner and turned into Computer Added Design (CAD) files that the printer then reads. Materials are laid down in successive horizontal layers as the printer effectively “builds” the item section by section, which stands in contrast to the subtractive nature of traditional manufacturing.

This rapidly growing technology has a multitude of applications. It may be used to create models, prototypes or parts for machines and aircraft. Methods for printing working human organs for use in transplants are also in the works. On the creative side, 3D printing provides a way for artists and designers to literally bring their imaginations to life.

While there are many applications that will change our future, we are already seeing homes being developed using this technology and it’s being hailed as the technology of the future for affordable housing.

The Intellectual Property Dilemma

Just like the troubles that arose surrounding peer-to-peer music and file sharing sites, problems with intellectual property law are beginning to pop up in relation to 3D printing. Many “blueprint” sites exist where designers can upload their creations for others to print, but not all of these creations represent original work. Even when they do, it can be difficult to track whether or not end users are following proper attribution procedures according to any creative licenses attached to the design. At a certain point, reproduction becomes uncontrollable and the origin of the initial creation gets lost in the chaos.

One of the biggest problems with 3D printing and intellectual property law is that most people don’t understand how copyright works. This leads to unintentional and accidental infringement that can result in big losses for the companies or designers holding the rights to the items being reproduced. With personal 3D printers becoming more common, it’s getting harder to track down individual infringers and prove that their actions are worthy of legal punishment.

If it’s just a CAD file, what happens if that file is released to the general public or what happens if the file is changed for the better or worse? The liability by itself is enough to make sure we establish property intellectual property guidelines.

3D Printing, Intellectual Property and the Future

Copyright law technically goes into effect the moment a unique design is created, but industries and designers can file for additional legal protections in an attempt to keep their intellectual property from being reproduced. Patents, trademarks and design protection are all meant to ensure that a design remains the property of the original creator. However, these do little to stop malicious users from creating counterfeit copies of anything from toys to functional weapons. The potential dangers posed by some of these items may bring other branches of the law, such as liability law, into play as time goes on.

Given the complex legal challenges surrounding 3D printing and intellectual property, it could be some time before official legislation is put in place to handle cases of infringement. Until then, those who create and distribute designs need to be made aware of how to take advantage of available protections so that they have some type of legal recourse should their creations fall into the wrong hands.

Our Solution

Williams IP Law has worked across many verticles and can help if you think that someone has violated your intellectual property rights through 3D printing. With offices throughout Texas, we can help you wherever you are located.

Patent Litigation

When an individual inventor or a company is granted a patent, it means that they have the legal right to prevent others from benefitting from their hard work. Any competitor that is making or selling an infringing product may be sued by the patent holder.

Litigation is always a risky, expensive and time-consuming process. Nonetheless, it also is a critical component of protecting intellectual property rights. When two parties enter into a serious dispute, sometimes a lawsuit is the only way to settle their differences.

If you are a patent owner and you believe that your rights are being infringed by a competitor, then contact Williams IP Law to learn more about your legal rights and options.

What Is Patent Litigation?

This type of action is a lawsuit that is filed in civil, rather than criminal, court. Usually, these types of lawsuits are filed when someone who holds a patent believes that another person is using their invention without permission.

Keep in mind that litigation is not the first step in the process when infringement is suspected. It is common for a lawsuit to be filed only as a last resort after the alleged infringer absolutely refuses to acknowledge or address the concerns of the patent holder.

Most patent litigation matters only come to a lawsuit after months of back and forth between attorneys. Once a lawsuit is filed, it may be months, and most likely years, before the matter is resolved.

How Does Patent Litigation Work?

Neither party is likely to enter the patent litigation process lightly. Typically, a lawsuit only becomes necessary when both parties have dug in their proverbial heels, with both sides insisting that they are the rightful owner of the technology at issue.

Like other civil lawsuits, these matters begin with the filing of a Complaint by the plaintiff, who usually is the patent owner. Then, the defendant is required to file an Answer.

What follows is usually many months of research, depositions and discovery. It may be necessary to sift through thousands of documents, depose critical witnesses and locate experts who can help to shore up either side of the case.

Frequently, the claims in the lawsuit come down to whether or not the patent is valid. The patent owner naturally claims that their patent is valid while the attorney for the defendant must argue why the patent is invalid. This can be a complex determination that rests on detailed knowledge of technical and patent-related matters.

This is a complicated and time-consuming process. However, it’s also a critical component of any patent lawsuit. In fact, many of these lawsuits are settled at the discovery stage because some evidence or testimony comes to light that illustrates the validity of the claim of one party or the other. There may even be a mountain of evidence proving the claims of one party.

Even if such evidence never comes to light, this stage of the lawsuit can be a war of attrition. One party or the other may conclude that continuing the fight just isn’t worth their time and money. Occasionally, both parties reach this decision and come up with a settlement agreement that at least partially satisfies everyone.

Will Your Case End up in Court?

Like other civil litigation matters, most patent lawsuits never make it to their court date. If your lawsuit does go the distance, this means significantly increased expenses for both parties. However, if they are unable to reach any kind of accord before the trial begins, they are left with no other choice.

Do You Need Patent Litigation?

Whether you are an individual inventor or work for a company that owns an important patent, then it is crucial for you to protect your rights. Unfortunately, this sometimes means being faced with the decision to file a patent lawsuit.

Given that such litigation is costly, complicated and time-consuming, the representation that you choose matters. It’s essential that you seek legal counsel with the right kind of knowledge and experience to see you through the process from beginning to end.

At Williams IP Law, our legal professionals work with inventors every day. Not only do we help people and companies to obtain the intellectual property protection that they need but also we represent them when it’s time to enforce their rights.

With considerable patent litigation experience, Williams IP Law is the firm that you need when you’re concerned that your intellectual property rights have been violated.

Patents 101: Patent Thicket’s

What is a patent thicket and how does it affect you?

If you have ever seen an overgrown garden, then you probably know what a thicket is. That tangled mass of brush and branches looks as if it would be impossible to sort out. Pull on one branch and a dozen others might come along with it.

A patent thicket is a lot like the thicket in a neglected garden. It’s a cluster or grouping of patents that are more or less dependent upon each other. When a single entity constructs a thicket of patents it can be argued that they are doing so in an effort to prevent competitors from entering the market. Alternatively, several entities that are all in the same or a similar industry can create a patent thicket as they all compete to own the most innovations.

Notible Patent Thicket

One of the more recent and recognizable patent thickets concerns smart phone technology. The cell phone industry has a lot of major players including Apple, Motorola, Google, Samsung, HTC, Nokia and others. Each of these companies continuously files patent applications aimed at protecting even incremental improvements in their technology. At the same time, they are busily filing lawsuits against each other. For instance, the “swipe to unlock” feature that is common on many smart phones is the subject of U.S. Patent No. 8,046,721 to Apple. However, this feature is found on the smart phones of many other manufacturers. Some of those manufacturers have doubtless licensed the right to use the technology, but others may have simply made use of it without asking permission. It’s behavior like that which leads to lawsuits.

In the cell phone technology field alone there are thousands of patents. Each time an inventor makes an improvement a new patent application is filed. Imagine that a new manufacturer wants to get into the game. They have some unique, innovative ideas, but they’re going to have to borrow some technology from Apple, Samsung, Google and others to get the job done. After already pouring perhaps thousands or millions of dollars into their own invention, this new entrant to the industry is faced with having to make licensing deals with all of these heavy-hitters, some of whom may not agree to let the upstart use their technology at any price.

Ugly Side of Patent Thickets

Faced with this kind of daunting task, many entrepreneurs decide that the effort simply isn’t worthwhile. They can’t come to terms with the big corporations who ask for ridiculous amounts to use their technology, and any product they bring to market is certain to infringe a number of patents which will undoubtedly lead to lawsuits.

That’s why economists and inventors tend to get concerned when they see a patent thicket. There’s a fear that all those closely related patents may stifle creativity. However, there may be other ways to capitalize on an invention that’s aimed at technology where a patent thicket exists. With the help of an experienced intellectual property attorney it may be possible to explore other avenues for getting a new innovation off the ground.

If you need any patent assistance in Texas please contact the Law Offices of Jeff Williams for a free intellectual property consultation.

Trade Secrets Rights and Uses

Intellectual property may be protected in a variety of ways. New inventions may be covered by a patent while your company’s name and logo may be protected with a trademark registration. If your company publishes brochures, then these are covered with a copyright.

However, what if your company has something that they would like to protect, but keep secret? Several famous examples of “trade secrets” exist. These include Kentucky Fried Chicken’s 11 herbs and spices, the secret formula for making Coca-Cola and the search algorithm that Google uses.

Why didn’t these companies decide to patent or otherwise protect their IP via the various mechanisms that are available under U.S. law?

It’s because they wanted to keep their “secret ingredient” a secret. When you file a patent application, for example, it is essential that you disclose everything about the invention so that the United States Patent and Trademark Office can establish that it is non-obvious, novel and eligible for patent protection.

This means that any proprietary information that goes into your invention will eventually become public knowledge. When your patent expires, your technology becomes available for others to use.

However, when you protect something as a trade secret, then you have the potential to keep it a secret in perpetuity.

What Can You Protect with a Trade Secret?

Trade secrets can protect an array of things, from an ingenious idea that gives your firm a competitive edge to the marketing plans for your newest product. Similarly, customer lists can be protected as trade secrets as well as information regarding prices and costs.

Some companies even protect negative know-how as a trade secret. This basically refers to anything that they have learned to not do through extensive research and development. Sometimes, this information is just as valuable as the ingredients that successfully make up your secret.

Essentially, a trade secret can be almost any information that is valuable to your company and generally isn’t known to the rest of the world, especially your competition.

What Rights Does a Trade Secret Grant?

If a company chooses to keep some information as a trade secret, then they have the right to prevent certain people from using or benefiting from that trade secret.

Some of these people are automatically bound by a strict duty of confidentiality. This applies to any employees who work with or are knowledgeable about the trade secret.

Trade secrets also give you legal protections in the event that your proprietary information is illegally obtained via bribery or theft. A company with a trade secret further can prevent people who accidentally discover the secret information from profiting from it as well as those who are asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement before the confidential information is shared with them.

However, a trade secret does not grant a company any rights if another party independently discovers the trade secret. As an example, there is no law that prevents someone from reverse engineering a product that is only protected as a trade secret. This means that theoretically someone could analyze the formula used to make Coca-Cola, discover its precise ingredients and then start making and selling their own version of Coca-Cola. Because Coca-Cola’s formula is only protected as a trade secret, they would have a lot of difficulty stopping the inventor from profiting from his knowledge.

How Does a Company Protect a Trade Secret?

Businesses have to do more than just call a certain piece of information a trade secret. Instead, it is necessary to take affirmative actions that will protect this information and keep it confidential. Many companies will take extreme measures to keep their information strictly private.

This is the case with the makers of Coca-Cola, as the formula is locked in a bank vault that is only able to be opened after a resolution is passed by the board of directors. Only two company employees are ever allowed to know the formula at the same time. These employees are forbidden from flying on the same airplane, and their identities are never made known to the public.

Most companies do not have to go to such extreme lengths to protect their trade secrets. A few reasonable precautions generally are all that is required.

For instance, it is wise to mark any documents with “Confidential” if they contain any trade secret information. All trade secret materials probably should be locked away in a safe or other secure area after hours. Another sensible measure is to beef up any computer security protocols to ensure that hackers and other bad actors can’t gain access to sensitive information.

If you do have trade secrets, then you’ll probably want to limit how many people actually have access to that information. Ensure that your employees are bound by a duty of confidentiality, preferably with a written document, and do the same with anyone who is not an employee but who must be told about the trade secret for any reason. A proper non-disclosure agreement is a simple document that can help to protect proprietary information under just about any circumstances.

Talk to a Lawyer About Protecting Trade Secrets

If you have proprietary information that you believe would be best protected by keeping it as a trade secret, then contact the Law Offices of Jeff Williams. Mr. Williams is an experienced intellectual property attorney who can help you to understand your rights and devise a strategy for protecting proprietary information.

Can Monkeys Sue for Copyright Infringement?

People and animals have always had special relationships. State and federal laws are designed to provide protection to animals and to ensure their humane treatment. One court recently found that these relationships do not necessarily give animals the right to sue people in civil court.

Naruto “the Monkey” vs. David Slater

An unusual case began in 2011 when David Slater, a wildlife photographer, traveled to Sulawesi, Indonesia. He was on assignment, but there was a moment when he left his camera unattended. Naruto, a crested macaque, was nearby and seemed unable to resist temptation. Working quickly, he snapped several shots, including a series of selfies that is now known as the “Monkey Selfies.”

Slater was delighted when he saw the monkey’s work. In partnership with Wildlife Personalities, Ltd., the monkey selfies were published in a book. Slater and Wildlife Personalities are identified as copyright owners in the publication. However, text throughout the work identifies Naruto as the photographer.

The Copyright Law

Under U.S. copyright law, a photographer owns all rights to the images he captures unless he assigns those rights. Slater and Wildlife Personalities were turning a profit on the book, which they openly acknowledged included the photographic work of Naruto.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, filed a lawsuit in 2015 on Naruto’s behalf. Dr. Antje Engelhardt additionally acted as a plaintiff in an attempt to preserve Naruto’s rights. Engelhardt had spent a decade studying crested macaques, including Naruto, in Sulawesi, giving him a close relationship with the monkey. The plaintiffs alleged in the complaint that Slater and Wildlife Personalities were infringing Naruto’s copyrights.

Defendants responded by arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing and that no claim had been stated. The district court agreed with this motion, finding that plaintiffs had not established statutory standing. PETA and Dr. Engelhardt appealed.

The Argument for the Monkey

The Ninth Circuit first needed to decide whether or not PETA had standing to bring the case on Naruto’s behalf. PETA argued that they were acting as Naruto’s “next friend,” a common law concept that is typically used when one individual wants to act on behalf of another individual who is a minor, disabled or otherwise unable to direct an attorney as to their wishes. Generally, the party that acts as a “next friend” must have a well-established, relatively close relationship with the party for whom they are acting. In this instance, the court found against PETA because they could not establish a “significant relationship” with Naruto. Further, the court decreed that U.S. law does not permit an animal to be represented by a “next friend.” Dr. Engelhardt, who arguably did have a “significant relationship” with Naruto, had pulled out of the appeal by this time, which meant that no plaintiffs in the case had actual standing.

The court went even further, arguing that Congress would have to authorize the extension of “next friend” rights so that a person could bring a lawsuit on an animal’s behalf. Nonetheless, the Ninth Circuit acknowledged a case or controversy as described in the Constitution under Article III. The court felt an obligation to weigh whether or not an “incompetent party,” such as Naruto, was receiving adequate protection.

In the decision on the Article III question, the court ruled that the complaint adequately substantiated Naruto’s authorship of the photographs and demonstrated economic harm to the monkey as a result of the infringement on his copyrights. Accordingly, Naruto had standing under Article III.

Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit decided against Naruto because the Copyright Act does not give animals authority to file copyright infringement lawsuits. This lack of standing put an end to the lawsuit, but it sets an interesting precedent at the intersection between humans, animals and the law.

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