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Sacramento Intellectual Property Law Blog

Not paying royalties may lead to intellectual property litigation

Just because a California individual or business owns a patent, copyright or trademark, it does not mean that no one else can use the item associated with it. Owners can negotiate licenses to others so they can use the item, and in return, they receive royalties. If the licensee fails to make the agreed upon payments, intellectual property litigation could ensue.

Every contract for royalties has its own unique provisions, but nearly all of them share some commonalities. The property associated with a patent, copyright or trademark needs to be described in as much detail as possible, along with its owner. The contract also needs to specify the limits and scope associated with the other party's use, which can be anywhere from perpetual use to one-time use and anything in between.

Maintaining control of a trademark when growing a business

While some Sacramento small business owners are content with one shop, many others are not. They intend to grow their business and perhaps even begin allowing other potential small business owners to work under the same company trademark. This requires careful planning in order to avoid losing control over it, however.

A trademark must be used consistently in order for its owner to retain it. A trademark identifies a certain business to consumers, and they expect certain goods and a certain quality from those goods. If a business using the trademark does not meet those minimum requirements, then the owner of it could lose it.

Did BMW violate patent law with regard to its hybrid engine?

When a Sacramento inventor wants to market an invention, it may become necessary to share certain details with prospective customers or clients. During these meetings, those individuals may decide to circumvent patent law by not obtaining the proper licensing to use the invention. This issue is at the heart of a recent lawsuit filed by Paice LLC and its investor, The Abell Foundation Inc., against BMW.

According to Paice, it shared details about its hyrbrid engine technology with BMW starting in the early 2000s. Those discussions ended, and BMW made an attempt to team up with General Motors and DaimlerChrysler to develop a hybrid engine, but those discussions stopped when it was determined the technology was simply too expensive. The following year, BMW released its first attempt at a hybrid vehicle, but later took it off the market.

Protecting trade secrets may require going to court

Keeping proprietary information within the company can present a challenge to Sacramento business owners. Every time an employee leaves, whether voluntarily or otherwise, steps need to be taken in order to make sure that no trade secrets leave with him or her. If an employer discovers that someone did leave the company with one or more trade secrets, it may be necessary to take steps to retrieve the information and protect it. Phillips 66 had to do just that when it turned in to the FBI a former employee who ultimately admitted to taking at least one trade secret upon his resignation.

The 35-year-old man worked with a team to develop a next generation battery. In Dec. 2018, he left the company with a thumb drive upon which he had copied several proprietary research and development files. He later returned it, claiming he "forgot" to leave it when he left the company. Upon its inspection, some files were deleted from it. Those files turned up on a hard drive in the possession of the man, who was a permanent resident of the country at the time.

Patent law claim leads to verdict in favor of USAA

Protecting intellectual property can feel like a full time job for companies here in California and elsewhere. For those with patents for a product that draws in customers and makes a company's services or products desirable, remaining vigilant and looking for those violating their rights under patent law can lead to litigation. For instance, the United Services Automobile Association filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo, alleging it infringed upon USAA's patents for mobile deposit technology.

In fact, as far back as 2017, USAA warned numerous financial institutions about infringing on its patents for this service. At some point, the company, which provides financial services to military members and their families, decided to file a lawsuit against Wells Fargo. Recently, a jury reached a verdict regarding USAA's claims against the other financial giant.

Using the internet could result in copyright infringement claims

When hearing about copyright infringement claims, it is only natural for individuals here in California to think of companies and celebrities facing these issues right along with many others across the country. In reality, anyone can become the target of such a claim. Simply using the internet creates that risk.

Copyrights cover music, movies, television shows, books, pictures and more. Downloading them without the proper permissions could technically constitute infringement, along with posting the content. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a person's internet service provider may send a customer a notice of copyright violation.

Did Jennifer Lopez violate copyright law? Some paparazzi say yes

Taking pictures of celebrities and other famous people is a full-time job for some people. The pictures they take can be worth quite a bit of money, so when someone uses one of their photos without permission, they may decide to fight back. It does not even matter to them if the subject in the photo is the one using it. For instance, Splash News and Picture Agency located in southern California recently filed a lawsuit against Jennifer Lopez, alleging that she violated copyright law.

Lopez is accused of using photos on her Instagram account that Splash claims belong to the agency. Splash says it never gave Lopez a license to use the Nov. 2017 photo of her and Alex Rodriguez having breakfast. Splash claims it is owed $150,000 for each violation since photos of Lopez can bring in a lot of money when sold.

Some companies seem to blatantly commit patent infringement

One of the primary reasons for taking measures to protect intellectual property is to make sure no one else profits from the ideas of inventors here in California and elsewhere. For this reason, they go through the often painstaking process of applying for a patent, which is supposed to prevent others from using proprietary information. Unfortunately, some companies appear to blatantly commit patent infringement, which is now the assertion of iRobot against SharkNinja.

Most people are aware iRobot's product called the Roomba. Many California residents probably take advantage of this technology in order to avoid having to vacuum since this product does it for them. While at least one other company has created its own version of this product, iRobot recently filed a lawsuit against one such company, SharkNinja, for infringing on several of its patents. In fact, the company claims that SharkNinja did not even try to hide the fact that it copied its designs.

YouTubers could face blackmail re copyright infringement

The internet now provides a steady income for many people in California and across the country. Just a decade or so ago, no one would have thought that people could make hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year posting videos on YouTube. Now, there seem to be others out there who are trying to get popular channels shut down by claiming the owners commit copyright infringement.

YouTube tends to take this type of activity seriously, as it should. While there are some YouTubers who do violate copyright laws on occasion, others do not. Even so, all it takes is for someone to make an accusation for the popular video giant to mark a strike against the channel owner. Three strikes and a YouTube channel can be shut down.

How can you protect trade secrets?

As a California business owner, you likely have a trade secret or two to protect. We at Peterson Watts Law Group, LLP, are here to give you some ways that you can keep these secrets safe from would-be thieves.

First, there are physical safety measures you can take. This includes locking up secrets in a safe and limiting access to it. For example, some businesses have a system in which anyone accessing secret documents must hold a certain pass, and only one or two of these passes are given out at a time. This allows you to easily track down who is responsible if there is an information leak.

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