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Sacramento Intellectual Property Law Blog

Cybersecurity measures may be needed to protect trade secrets

The popularity of teleworking is growing at an exponential rate right now. Lots of California residents are taking advantage of this option, but they may need access to sensitive information from their companies in order to work. This means that trade secrets could end up vulnerable without some protections. Taking cybersecurity measures could help provide much needed protections.

The responsibility for protecting trade secrets starts with a California company's CEO and trickles all the way down to the employee working from home. Company CEOs need to make sure that managers and cybersecurity professionals have the tools they need such as plans to protect information, plans to respond to an attack and the money to put those plans into action. Managers can then allocate resources as necessary in order to best protect the company's sensitive information.

Not everything falls under copyright law

California individuals who create written works may be under the impression that everything they produce receives legal protection. The truth is that certain things are not covered by copyright law, and understanding what those things are could help clear up any confusion. This prevents individuals from proceeding as if they will receive protections and finding out later that none exists.

It would probably make sense to people that most government works do not receive copyright protection. Items such as statutes, judicial opinions, regulations, administrative rulings and public ordinances fall under that category. However, other California or local government works could receive protection. Also, federal employees do not receive protection for works created as part of their job duties, unless the person in question is an independent contractor whose works may qualify.

IBM relies on patent law to stop infringement once again

Individuals and companies here in California and elsewhere rely on intellectual property rights for protection. Companies like IBM hold patents on a variety of technologies, and they keep an eye on anyone who may use them without permission. Recently, IBM relied on patent law once again when it filed a lawsuit against Airbnb.

With the growth of e-commerce, many companies use technologies for their platforms that involve patents belonging to others, including IBM. Many companies will work with the owners of those technologies in order to use them. However, some do not, and they could end up facing litigation because of it.

Copyright law favors Led Zeppelin in infringement case

Even today, it would be difficult to find anyone here in California or elsewhere who has not heard the song "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin. The iconic tune is usually instantly recognizable, and back in 2014, the song became the subject of a lawsuit. The question before the court was whether the famous rock and roll band violated copyright law by copying the instrumental introduction portion of the song from a song called "Taurus" by Spirit, which was another band of the same era.

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, singer and guitarist for Led Zeppelin respectively, wrote "Stairway to Heaven" back in the early 1970s. The other song, "Taurus," was written in 1968. An heir of Randy Wolfe, who was the frontman for Spirit, claimed that Plant and Page used a portion of that song to create the famous introduction to Led Zeppelin's hit.

Some internet activities result in civil and criminal charges

Intellectual property is big business here in California and elsewhere and most companies do what they can to protect it. Before the internet, this was easier in some ways and more difficult in others. When companies discover their IP is in danger, the first inclination may be to file a civil claim, but the actions of those stealing or using trade secrets, patents, copyrights or trademarks without the permission of the owner could result in criminal charges as well.

In response to this possibility, the U.S. Department of Justice created a Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section to help combat this type of illegal activity. This section of the DOJ conducts investigations, litigates its own cases and assists other prosecutors' offices, and works to resolve investigative and legal issues associated with new technology. The CCIPS works with domestic and foreign government agencies, the private sector, academic institutions and other parties as it goes about its duties.

Apple couldn't get past patent law at the U.S. Supreme Court

Anytime California residents use "VPN on demand" or FaceTime on their iPhones or iPads, they are using technology that the courts say doesn't belong to Apple. VirnetX began patent law litigation against Apple back in 2010 alleging the smartphone giant infringed upon its patents for these technologies. Since that time, the case has made its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A federal court awarded VirnetX $302 million plus fees and interest in 2016 for Apple's infringement of four of the other company's patents. Apple appealed, but a federal appeals court upheld the lower court's verdict, which grew to $440 million with accrued interest and fees by 2019. Apple again appealed -- this time to the U.S. Supreme Court saying the amount of damages overestimates the value of the technology that is the subject of the patents. 

The internet continues to be a source of copyright infringement

Has it really been 15 years since two men registered a website called YouTube? The site exploded on the internet in recent years as more people here in California and around the world found a way to earn a living uploading content for others to watch. According to the CEO Susan Wojcicki, the number of content creators with at least 100,000 subscribers grew 40% in the last year. Those creators earn five figures a year, which makes YouTube big business for a lot of people.

The problem is that it can be so easy to violate another person's copyright, especially those with music rights. Just in 2019, YouTube paid no less than $3 billion to the music industry for rights to songs for advertisements and subscriptions. That number probably does not include any copyright infringement claims that arise, which is why the popular site has begun cracking down on content creators for violations.

Trade secrets are at the center of Hershey litigation

For businesses here in Sacramento and elsewhere to remain competitive in the market, it is often necessary to closely guard some, if not all, aspects of the business. Keeping certain information confidential helps ensure that no one else discovers it. Trade secrets may not come with the same protections as patents or copyrights, but they also do not require the information to be divulged. Even large companies with patents, such as the Hershey Co., may also have some trade secrets.

Some people would say there is just one problem with this system -- employees are the greatest risk to trade secrets. For instance, the Hershey Co. recently filed a lawsuit against the former president of its healthy snack brand, Amplify, alleging he left the company with trade secrets. According to reports, the company says the former president took numerous documents with him when he left the Hershey Co. and went to Kind LLC.

The downside of copyright law: not everything is protected

Business owners, authors, musicians and others who create books, music and other written works ought to consider protecting them as often as possible. Many people here in California and elsewhere do take advantage of the protections gained from copyrighting their materials in order to keep others from using them without permission. Even so, copyright law does have its limitations.

When it comes to intellectual property, most people focus on what they can protect. However, every law has its limitations, and copyright law is no exception. While it does cover a variety of works, California residents may want to know what cannot be protected.

Don't give away too much when applying for a patent

Protecting intellectual property is a priority for many Sacramento inventors. Applying for a patent provides protections and benefits to them they would not otherwise have. This makes filling out the application a crucial part of the process, and it needs to be done carefully in order to increase the chances of receiving an approval.

One of the places where many people make mistakes is in the Background section of the application. This section is comprised of two primary parts: Background of the Prior Art and Field of Use Statement. Inventors are not required to fill out these sections, but they would strongly be advised to do so. When individuals do fill out these sections, they tend to include far more information than they need to, which could actually work against them.

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