Thursday, December 31, 2009
#1. Patent No. 6473908: "Garment having a buttocks cleavage revealing feature," What's buttocks cleavage? It's when a little bit of the buttocks (and cleft between them) is exposed. Some people find this type of exposure unappealing--in the U.S. it's disparagingly referred to as 'plumber's crack,' in Britain it's 'builder's bum,' and in Brazil, call it cofrinho. Even with this negative rap, apparently there are those among us who like to expose their gluteal cleft. For those folks, inventor Thomas A. Bontems created a method for affixing a strategically placed see-through material allowing for ideal butt cleavage exposure. One nice feature is that the see-through portion of the invention is not limited to a basic heart-shaped peek-a-boo cut-out; the wearer can also expose themselves through flower shaped, butterfly shaped, and football-helmet shaped windows of opportunity. (We're not sure if the football helmet is for fans or players occupying Center position). There's even a "logo" view that presumably allows for unlimited corporate licensing opportunities--for example, you can expose yourself within the Apple logo or Chevrolet "bowtie." Since inventors solve problems, one may wonder what problem Bontems' invention solves? According to the inventor, many people like to expose portions of their anatomy but they're not comfortable wearing tight fitting or low cut jeans. This invention "incorporates a revealing feature that does not detract from or govern the overall structure of the garment." In other words Bontems has leveled the playing field and liberated butt cleavage from the thin, the sexy and the good-looking. Free at last!!
#2. Patent No. 6,012,168: "Privacy accessory for use with hospital gown" Even exhibitionists would probably like to avoid one situation of butt-cleavage exposure--the use of an old-fashioned posterior-exposing hospital gown. Laurie Hutton and Lois Histopad came up with a temporary-albeit worky solution as shown in their 1998 patent--a flap-and-strap garment that can be worn underneath the gown to guarantee "practical modesty coverage." Much as we may support the concept, this flapping backside accessory seems like a stop-gap measure. Sure enough, a better solution arrived in 2001 with Sarah Bowens' Patent No. 6,237,153, "Hospital Garment" which featured three panels one of which was an overlapping back panel. Despite the obsolescence of their invention, we support Histopad and Hutton because as lawyers, we can relate to the need for covering your ass.
#3. Patent No. 4,151,613: "Protective device for the buttocks and hips of a person for use in skateboarding" Skateboarding is all about style and what could be more stylish than wearing a plastic and foam portable seat on your butt? Now, that should impress your boarding buds. No doubt, inventor Jhoon Rhee had the noblest intentions--to shield skateboarders from hip and butt damage--after all skateboarding injuries account for 50,000 emergency room visits per year. And since 90% of the skateboarding victims are under 15, it makes a lot of sense that kids should wear this "ass-helmet," although getting them to comply should be about as easy as getting them to clean out the septic tank. And here's some good news for manufacturers; Rhee's patent expired in 1995 so anyone can sell and use this shielding device.
#4. Patent No. 5708986: "Undergarment having rear supports" We're afraid there's no other way to put this one. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has spent your tax dollars reviewing and ultimately granting a patent on a device that basically holds your butt cheeks in a raised position. Okay, not every invention can be a cure for cancer and we understand that looking good makes you feel good and feeling good is important in this cruel world. So perhaps it is important to have an invention that "enhances the presentation of the derriere." The principle is simple: cut two strategically placed holes in a support garment and allow your butt to fit within. The result, according to the inventor, is something akin to a push-up bra for your butt.
#5. Patent No. 6,293,874: "User-operated amusement apparatus for kicking the user's buttocks." Here's an invention that Jefferson and Franklin could never have anticipated -- a machine that allows you to kick your own ass. At least, there's no question what problem this invention solves ... the anatomic impossibility of booting oneself in the butt. This is of course not the first self-spanking machine (see also Pat No. 920,837 for example), but it's a giant leap forward over previous machines whose paddles needed to be reset after each episode. Inventor Joe Armstrong eliminated those pesky issues with his crank system utilizing rotating arms, resulting in a patent issued in 2001. Best of all the whole apparatus folds up for easy transport or storage so you can even take it on vacation. (Tip of the Hatlo Hat to Greg Aharonian)
Posted by The Dear Rich Staff at 2:02 PM
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Dear Rich: We would like to spoof the Pittsburgh Steelers 'Terrible Towel' with a "We ARE Terrible Towel" for the Detroit Lions. It would be white with no logos. Satires can't infringe copyrights can they? Thoughts? If you're making one towel to hold up for the TV cameras, you're probably okay. But if you're thinking of making more than one, the Dear Rich Staff would advise against it. First of all -- it's not a copyright issue as copyright doesn't protect short phrases or individual words.
It's a trademark issue. The term "Terrible Towel" was created by Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope who acquired trademark rights and then assigned the registered trademark to a charity, the Allegheny Valley School, an institution for the disabled. Considering that licensing revenues from the towel have earned the school over $3 million, the school and the Steelers (who acknowledge that the towel is one of the most popular merchandise concepts in football history) both have a vested interest in preventing others from making and selling Terrible Towels. It could infringe and dilute a world-famous mark (and one that is carried to the far corners of the earth.)
Does satire matter? We must clarify one thing: you stated that satires can't infringe copyrights. That's not correct. A parody may be excused as a fair use under some circumstances. The same is not always true for satires. Here's a lawyerly explanation of the distinction. In any case, your use does not seem to qualify as either a satire or a parody, does it? Bottom line: sales and distribution of your towel will likely trigger a cease and desist letter.
Posted by The Dear Rich Staff at 2:04 PM
Monday, December 28, 2009
Copyright or trademark? If your son will be selling the invention as a product, he should consider acquiring a trademark registration for the name. As for copyright, he will acquire a copyright automatically for any copyrightable aspects of his invention. There's more on both topics in this book.
The correct answer is (d). Why the baby photo? (a) It signifies the 'birth' of your son's patent, (b) it signifies the new year (or new decade), (c) It's a sad attempt at search engine optimization ("cute baby, patent"), or (d) it was available in the free photo bin at istockphoto.com.
Posted by The Dear Rich Staff at 2:19 PM
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
How could this happen? Apparently like those people who crashed the White House Dinner, some things just get by the experts. In fact that's exactly the kind of error that keeps us up late at night and the reason why we need to wear retainers to prevent the teeth gnashing, and use expensive biofeedback systems to calm down after every entry. In any case, the only penance that we can propose is a self-imposed cone of silence that shall go into effect immediately.
Posted by The Dear Rich Staff at 2:21 PM
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Intent to Use Marks. When you file an intent-to-use application, your mark may be examined and approved for publication, but registration is not granted until you file a document with the USPTO establishing that you've begun using the mark. So, in practical terms, you have no trademark rights until you start selling goods and services associated with the mark. Or as they say, 'no trade; no trademark.'
(Note: If you are asking, when does the mark show up within the USPTO trademark registration system (TARR), that happens fairly quickly, usually within
Posted by The Dear Rich Staff at 2:22 PM
Monday, December 7, 2009
Dear Rich: I recently took a public relations accreditation test that included the question below. The answer was D. If the photos were in company files why can't it be argued they were paid for? If the photos were 20 to 100 years old does the copyright still hold?
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, your company wants to publish a coffee-table book of photos depicting the company's history. You dig through the files and old annual reports and find many photos, some of which have never been published. Some of the unpublished photos are dated and stamped on the back with the name of a photography studio that has been out of business for 20 years. When you consult with your publisher about the most effective way to reproduce these particular prints, the publisher says they cannot reprint them without the original photographer's permission. You are unable to find the original contract between the company and the photographer. Can you reprint the photos without the original photographer's permission?
A. Yes, if you pay the publisher a fee to reproduce the photos.
B. Yes, the company paid for the photography and therefore owns the prints.
C. Yes, you can reproduce the photos if you give proper credit to the photographer.
D. No, the photographer or heirs own the copyright and must grant permission to reproduce the unpublished photographs.
The answer to your question within a question is that D is the best (or "most correct") answer. We understand your desire to argue the point - that's one of the reasons that the Dear Rich Staff quit teaching - but unless there is documentation showing that the photographer transferred rights to the company, the photographer retains copyright. The act of paying for a service such as photography does by itself not grant copyright.
A better and much more long-winded answer would have been:
E. Probably Not. If the photos were subject to a work for hire arrangement executed before January 1, 1978, it's possible that the republication would be permitted since such agreements are interpreted more "loosely" than under the current Copyright Act. However, as a general rule, photos are protected for the life of the author plus seventy years (although if the U.S. ever passes Orphan Works legislation, this whole question will be moot).Ennyway we're happy to learn that people in public relations are accredited and hope you passed your test and are earning 20% more than your colleagues. (Also we hope you will indemnify us in case the accreditation tester sues us for copyright infringement.)
Posted by The Dear Rich Staff at 2:23 PM
Friday, December 4, 2009
What Does Google Get? Google's Terms of Service (Intellectual property Rights) state:
Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate.
The Right to Display Your Blog. You do give one thing to Google, and that's "a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying and distributing Google services." That basically means you can't sue Google for posting your blog. (Axiomatic, right?) And, in case you're not aware, Google can remove infringing or offensive content (There's more on that in the Terms of Service.)
URLs and Re-Directs. The only real estate that's owned by Google is the URL (domain name) that locates your blog -- for example, http://myblogname.blogspot.com. Should you decide to switch to another blog provider, you can't take that with you. That shouldn't be much of an issue and in any case, there are ways to redirect fans to a new URL -- the easiest of which is to leave your Google blog up with directions to your new home (like this).
Copyrights and Trademarks. You can federally register your blog name. The Dear Rich Staff provided information about that here. You acquire copyright automatically when you post a blog entry but you can enhance those rights by registering with the Copyright Office. Generally, that's not essential (and a little bit of work) but the rules are here.
Posted by The Dear Rich Staff at 2:24 PM
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Posted by The Dear Rich Staff at 2:25 PM
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
We've been here before. We explored a similar issue last August regarding the Nuremberg Trials transcripts and we start with the same principles -- copyright does not protect spoken testimony, only fixed versions of that testimony. The 'author,' for copyright purposes is typically 'the fixer,' -- in this case the court reporter. And as we also noted, at least one case has held that court reporters are not authors of courtroom testimony because the mechanical process of transcribing does not demonstrate sufficient originality. We're unable to find any caselaw that grants Copyright in trial transcripts. Although laws currently exist providing common law rights to spoken statements, it's not clear whether they could be successfully asserted against you. If we were a betting blog, we'd bet that you would be okay -- under copyright law -- to use the transcripts.
What about other legal theories? Are you in danger of defaming, invading anyone's privacy or infringing a right of publicity? As you're probably aware, many great plays have been based on trial transcripts, often years after the final gavel sounded -- for example, Inherit the Wind and The Crucible. Using a more current case may anger living participants especially if: (1) you add additional dialogue that slanders an individual, (2) you include false facts (or facts not introduced as public evidence), or (3) the trial is about someone famous and you use that fame as a basis for promoting your play. To further protect yourself, we recommend that you "fictionalize" the trial--for example, change the names and other identifying facts so that parties are not identifiable (this may be tricky if it is a locally publicized case).
Who gets credit? You get credit as author, at least as to the original material you contribute and your organization of the material and stage directions. You have no obligation to attribute the source (and it may even be wise to avoid doing that if you've ficitonalized.) When registering the work at the copyright office, you would disclaim the material from the trial transcript.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Owning an award doesn't grant an automatic license. As for your trademark ownership, we would need more information before responding, but assuming it's a registered trademark like this one, it seems like your rights are limited to promoting the award, not the individuals who receive it. If that were not the case, then anyone could provide awards to sports stars and then make money off their names and personnas. Perhaps a listing of the names of all winners may be excused, or perhaps a t-shirt listing all of the winners in a category or for a time period would not violate a sports star's right of publicity but in general, we believe sports stars will object and will likely prevail in these types of claims. Keep in mind that one of the landmark cases establishing the right of publicity took place in New York and involved a baseball player.