Friday, May 31, 2013
Dear Rich: Who owns the rights to the Dragnet TV series from the 1950's? I understand it was owned by the Jack Webb estate after he passed away in 1982. I am trying to find out if the original prints or negatives of these shows are available to be put on DVD or Blu-ray. I know that the copyright for some shows has run out but the copies available are old 16mm TV prints, I am interested in the 35mm originals. Some (or all) of the 1950's series episodes of Dragnet appear to be in the public domain, probably because of a failure to renew the copyright. According to our friends at Wikipedia, "Most, if not all, episodes of this  series have become public domain, and fifty-two episodes have been released by many DVD labels." The public domain status is reinforced by the fact that 64 episodes of the 1951 series are available at the Internet Archive. Because there were 276 episodes in the 1951 series, its not clear why the remaining episodes aren't available. Either: (1) they're not in the public domain, (2) Mark VII Limited (the production company that owns the shows) has never released them for distribution, or (3) copies of the episodes don't exist anymore. (BTW, the 1967 series is under copyright.) (Previously, we wrote about the public domain status of the Dragnet theme song and radio show. )
Thursday, May 30, 2013
When copyright isn't enough ... Copyright canot protect useful objects, so if by "design," you're talking about the design of the sneaker, itself -- toe patterns, side stripes, stitching, tips, number and placement of ringlets, appearance of the tongue, color of the laces, etc. -- then you want to consider the protection afforded by design patents. That's the approach taken by shoe makers such as Nike, Reebok, AVIA, Asics, LA Gear, Rockport, Sketchers, Wolverine, Keds, Louis Vuitton, Timberland, Berluti, and Kangaroos.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
The trademark licenses. When a company wants to license trademarks and patents, it's not unreasonable to set separate royalty rates for the trademarks. That way, if the trademark goodwill outlives the life of the patent -- for example, as with a product such as Scotchgard -- the trademark owner will still receive revenues, despite the lack of patent protection.
Two tiers. In previous entries and in our licensing book, we have suggested a two-tiered royalty for patent-pending products: one rate if the invention acquires patent protection; the other rate if the USPTO won't issue a patent. This often works when a product's success is tied to a first-to-market strategy.
Will your NDA protect you? If the company wants a single royalty -- they're saying that they will only license the product if the patent is granted -- then you need to re-group. If the product doesn't get a patent and it still has commercial potential, can the company go ahead with production and cut you out of the picture? Will your NDA protect you if, during the patent process, your patent is published as typically happens after 18 month -- and it's no longer a trade secret? Does your NDA prohibit the company from selling your product if it doesn't enter into a licensing deal? These are issues where an attorney's analysis may prove helpful.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Design patents. Inventors use design patents to protect the appearance or design of a functional object. Some examples of bird feeder design patents are this one and this one. Read more about design patents.
Utility patents. Inventors use utility patents to protect bird feeders with unique functional features -- for example, this squirrel-repelling feeder or this squirrel-repelling feeder or this squirrel-repelling feeder (whoa that's a lot of repelled squirrels). Read more about utility patents. (Also you can preserve your place in line at that Patent Office without filing a full patent application by filing a provisional patent application.
Trade secret. Some inventors seek to protect their rights when submitting ideas by using nondisclosure agreements (NDAs), thereby preserving trade secrets. The problem for inventors is that often the evaluating company won't sign the NDA because of concerns that they'll be precluded from developing similar ideas. Read more about NDAs and trade secrets.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Get in the zone. The purpose of zoning rules is to help maintain the peace and quiet of residential neighborhoods. To find out where your community falls on the issue, read your local zoning ordinance. You can obtain a copy from your city or county clerk’s office or your public library. Zoning ordinances are worded in many different ways to limit businesses in residential areas. Some are extremely vague, allowing “customary home-based occupations.” Others allow homeowners to use their houses for a broad but, unfortunately, not very specific list of business purposes -- for example, “professions and domestic occupations, crafts and services.” Still others contain a detailed list of approved occupations, such as “law, dentistry, medicine, music lessons, photography, cabinetmaking.” Whether inventing falls within one of these categories is usually unclear -- meaning it may be difficult or impossible to know for sure whether your local zoning ordinance bars home inventing businesses. Most ordinances prohibit activities that cause excessive noise, pollution, waste, odors and similar conditions not appropriate in a residential neighborhood. The important factor in zoning disputes is usually not the rules themselves, but maintaining peace with your neighbors so that the rules don't become an issue.
Public nuisance and other law. Keep in mind that even if your community doesn’t have restrictive zoning laws concerning home businesses, it could take legal action against you if you make a nuisance of yourself -- that is, do something that may harm public health or safety; for example, creating excessive noise or offensive odors, or storing hazardous chemicals or waste ... or starting fires. In addition, your invention business may be limited if (1) there are restrictions in a lease (if you're renting), or (2) there are restrictions in your community's CC&R's (if you live in a gated community).
Monday, May 20, 2013
- There's a difference between sharing co-writing copyright credit and sharing revenues. Only someone who has materially contributed to the writing of the composition is entitled to copyright co-ownership. On the other hand, you're free to share your songwriting revenues with anyone.
- A lot depends on how you structure the music publishing. We can't go into the gruesome details here but you can learn more about music publishing (and see examples of royalty splits for a band) in our Music Law book (or check out Randy Wixen's The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing).
- There are no fixed rules for dividing songwriting revenue.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Translations needed. According to the PCT rulebook, a translation of the international application must be furnished if the foreign patent office requires it. (Some countries permit you to choose from more than one language.) What's translated? The translation must include the description (including the title of the invention), the claims, and any text in the drawings. Normally the abstract must also be translated. Most countries don't require that the request itself be translated. Any foreign patent office that requires a translation of the request is obliged to furnish to the applicant–free of charge–a copy of the request form in the foreign language.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Branding. We remember when "to brand" meant to burn the flesh of an animal to indicate ownership. Ouch! Nowadays, of course, it refers to all kinds of marketing stuff typically related to a product or service line. In addition to product branding, there's personal branding, faith branding, nation branding, and employer branding. We're going to assume that branding your documentary means that you want to expand your "product line" to as many happy customers as possible. We couldn't tell you how to do that and if we could, we'd probably be doing something else.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Like a lot of things in trademark law, it's complicated. Although proof of actual confusion can be very convincing evidence, it is not always as convincing as it appears. As this article explains, the proof may be vague, anecdotal, and perhaps even untrustworthy. More importantly, it may not reflect how consumers actually interact with the marks in the marketplace. For this reason, proof of actual confusion is only one of the factors weighed in a trademark dispute
Monday, May 13, 2013
As for domain name arbitration ... Your type of case where the two domains sell different products, is a tough case to win in arbitration. That’s because this system is set up to stop cybersquatters – those who acquire domains in bad faith. Typically that’s demonstrated when the domain is held captive or is used to divert customers. It's tougher to prevail when the domain is acquired for a legitimate business purpose that doesn’t compete with the trademark owner. You'll need to argue that the other site is acting in bad faith and deliberately creating confusion. Be warned, the arbitrators are not predictable. Although it's true that trademark owners win about 80% of the time, that’s a little misleading because a large number of these cases are defaults -- the other side doesn’t bother to respond. The fee to file for one-person arbitration is $1500.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Copyright protection? Hopefully, you have something proprietary. But whether you can claim copyright in your contribution depends on how "separable" and protectable your work is from the board game. If copyright exists in the expansion, then you'll have a basis for proceeding against the owners if your creative work is hijacked. (You can seek to register your claim to copyright but would need to disclaim anything that pertains to the existing game.)
Secrecy? Ideally, you would get the game owners to sign a nondisclosure, or evaluation agreement. But many toy and game makers are hesitant to sign such agreements, or if they do sign, they often seek to exclude any ideas you have that are similar to ideas they are developing. Worse, they toss out secrecy agreements and ask you to sign a waiver agreement, waiving any obligations to maintain secrecy. In that case, you have to proceed with your own personal radar and determine whether the potential risk (losing your idea) is worth the potential reward (an acquisition or licensing payment for your idea). In general, case law about submitting ideas indicates that the best you can do to shore up your position when submitting an idea is:
- maintain it with secrecy (due to the vagaries of trade secret law, the idea may qualify as secret),
- don’t submit it until the company actively solicits the idea and it is clear that the arrangement is for compensation, and
- if possible, as mentioned above, use an evaluation (or option) agreement to maintain secrecy and to demonstrate solicitation.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
In the PRIOR-ART section don’t mention your invention or suggest any solutions. Never state that any prior art reference doesn’t teach a specific feature of your invention. When you knock the prior art, just state what's generally wrong with it from a novice's standpoint and don’t state that it doesn't have any specific novel feature of your invention. This is because (a) most people would not realize or consider that the lack of a specific feature is a disadvantage, and (b) it can make it seem like the lack of a specific feature was already known in the art and was not discovered by you, the inventor. For example, the right way to indicate this would be to write, "Smith’s system operates slowly." The wrong way would be to state, "Because Smith doesn’t eliminate the reaction waste products, this delays the refining process."
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Monday, May 6, 2013
Can you afford the fight? Assuming you have a strong claim, you're going to need a patent attorney in order to validate your claim to co-ownership. (You'll need a patent attorney because you will need someone familiar with the the patent process and with claims such as patent fraud.) It's possible (though not likely), that if you have a really strong financial claim, you can find an attorney who will work on contingency. Before you proceed, consider the financial outcome. You don't want to spend more money on lawyers than you'll earn from your patent.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Differences ... As you're aware a music publisher is a company that owns and profits from song copyrights. Some music publishers serve solely as "administrators," making sure you're properly registered with performing right societies and collecting revenue. For these tasks of managing your songwriting business they collect a fee, for example, 5 to 25% of your revenues. A co-publishing deal requires that you give up more, including half of the copyright, in the hopes that you'll get more in return. The co-publisher earns 25% to 50% or more of the songwriting arrangement under a convoluted system that's discussed in more detail in our Music Law book. We talk about the differences in a previous entry.