Top Five Funny Intellectual Property Blunders!

Mary Juetten shares the top five funny IP blunders which came to light during this year’s World Intellectual Property Day.

World Intellectual Property Day Celebration

First, it is a real celebration. On April 26th, 1970, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an agency of the United Nations came into being. WIPO’s mission is to stimulate innovation and creativity through the use of Intellectual Property (IP). Its members chose the WIPO birthday to encourage annual celebrations in IP communities worldwide.

This year’s World Intellectual Property Day (WIPD) theme was Creativity: The Next Generation. As we look forward, who are the future game-changers? Will we all be walking along wearing Google glasses instead of holding our smartphones in front of our faces?

Here in Phoenix, AZ our company held the inaugural World Intellectual Property Day BBQ on Friday April 26th. We asked guests to either dress up as their favorite inventor or bring along their favorite invention.

Personally, I brought in the Spanx® package and did my best to look like Sara Blakely. Not only did Blakely invent a product that solves a large problem for women (and men!) but she did all her own IP protection in the beginning after researching and educating herself.

Given the heat in Phoenix in April, one Steve Jobs impersonator had to go with a black t-shirt instead of the turtleneck.

Our own Jill HowardAllen dressed as Joey Ramone, a tribute to the Ramones as the creators of punk rock.

Top Five Mistakes

Local businesses and attorneys dropped by and shared some Intellectual Property mistakes with us either on white boards or in some funny stories:

1)  A Phoenix, Arizona restaurant comes up with a cool name and researches it on Google and United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). No one is using it locally or nationally. Instead of filing the trademark protection with the USPTO declaring an “intent to use”, the name is kept a secret while the owners develop signage, menus, marketing materials and a website. Therefore the name is never used in public or in commerce. Just prior to opening, another restaurant pops up with the same name.

That rival restaurant is actually using the name in commerce and therefore has the common law trademark and rights to file a federal trademark with the USPTO.

The money spent by the original restaurant on the signage and other materials is lost.

2)  A company is counseled to use the USPTO site to check their technology and name because there is concern that they may be using something similar to another company. This good advice was ignored and the company was sent a cease and desist letter for infringing on a name and a patent than then forced them into closure.

3) Proving that mistakes are not limited to startups, Microsoft apparently made a misstep with “Metro” now known as Windows 8.

After years of describing Windows 8 as Metro and referring to applications as Metro style, the word Metro was dropped completely. Officially Microsoft claimed that this was a shift to consumer naming conventions and that Metro was a code name during development. However, it was reported that the large German retailer Metro AG apparently threatened to file a trademark infringement case against Microsoft.

4)  Sierra Sci purchased a company named “Class 10” and planned a product line called the same but did not protect the name with a trademark with an intent to use registration. The domain name expired and the company that purchased that URL turned the website into an escort service. Sierra Sci did not pursue the product under that name for obvious reasons.

5)  Even blunders can have happy endings. US based airline Southwest Airlines (SWA) was using the slogan “Just Plane Smart” which was actually used first by Stevens Aviation.

The CEO of Stevens challenged the CEO of SWA to an arm-wrestling match with the winner receiving the rights to use the slogan.

Stevens CEO prevailed in the match but allowed SWA to keep the slogan. Both companies enjoyed positive media coverage and $15,000 raised from the event went to charity. Who says IP disputes have to be settled in court!

"Knowledge is Power" - Francis Bacon

The mistakes provide some valuable lessons not only for those starting a company. Please remember every business has IP and not only at inception. As some of these examples show, the issue is often not tricky patents but simple names.

Identify your IP at startup and then put in a process to identify and protect the IP with each new idea, product line, or invention.

We look forward to next year’s World IP Day here in Phoenix and hope you can join us because we plan to live stream the festivities!

This article was written by Mary Juetten, founder of Traklight a site that provides inventors, creators, and small businesses with the online tools to identify and protect their intellectual property. Visit Traklight and take the IP Risk Quiz to assess the risk of losing your IP. Use ID your IP®, the Traklight® questionnaire and receive a Report that identifies potential IP, educates, and provides an action plan including strategic IP business tips. Traklight products include the IP Vault®, which enables users to time-stamp and store files to prove dates of creation, invention, and publication plus now collaborate in the multi-user version. Finally, education and resources can be found in the IP Cloud®.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be general information and nothing in this article constitutes legal advice. Please consult with an attorney before making any intellectual property decisions.

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