Bill Ferrell is a fellow colleague who practices intellectual property law. Recently, Bill wrote an article on what you can do to protect your intellectual property. As I reviewed this list of recommendations, I began to appreciate the intersection between construction law and intellectual property law.
You see, the economic realities currently faced by the construction industry require streamlined designs, new systems, and innovative materials. As new products, methods, and designs emerge, they need to be protected through copyrighted drawings, trademarks, patents, trade secrets or other means.
Based up some of Bill’s tips and my own comments, here’s what you can do to protect your intellectual property and prevent infringement or misuse:
- Identify your intellectual property. The first step to preventing infringement is to identify what types of intellectual property your company possesses. Many items considered an expense can be converted into IP assets. Advertising, training materials, instruction manuals and computer programs are commonly overlooked as IP. In the construction industry, IP can also include designs and methods of construction.
- Protect your intellectual property. Determine whether you should protect your assets with U.S. and/or foreign patents, trademarks or copyrights. In many instances, registration of IP is the only means of enforcing your rights. Since registration of intellectual property can be expensive, carefully select what to protect.
- Choose business associates wisely. Thoroughly investigate any business associates. Confirm that relevant contracts contain provisions for protecting your intellectual property. If outsourcing manufacturing to other countries or working with foreign partners, consider splitting manufacturing between various vendors to prevent any one vendor from learning everything about your product.
- Monitor your intellectual property. Institute a policy under which the relevant commerce streams are monitored for infringing goods or services.
- Vigorously protect your intellectual property. Vigorously enforcing rights not only stops infringement but also deters would-be infringers. Although it can be difficult to get foreign infringers into a U.S. court, intellectual property laws may allow enforcement against the domestic subsidiaries or distributors of the infringing company and the purchaser of the infringing goods. If there is a copyright or trademark infringement, you may seek an injunction, damages, and attorney’s fees.
Still not convinced about the intersection between construction law and intellectual property law? Consider some of the following examples:
- You may need to exchange certain IP as part of forming a joint venture to pursue a construction job … how do you protect that exchange of information?
- Suppose you want to advertise as being the best green-building contractor in the area … what kind of slogans can you use?
- Your information technology assistant re-tools your scheduling software to interact with your cost reporting system … have you violated any license use restrictions?