Tuesday, October 14, 2008, 7:13 AM

Will A Stake From Your Competitor's Patent Pierce Your Plans?

The excitement of a new furniture collection can quickly turn to disappointment when the sheriff or U.S. Marshals deliver a Temporary Restraining Order to your business or showroom. The disappointment quickly falls into the depths of despair if federal court litigation follows. With the possibility looming of a large judgment, the time required by your key employees in depositions and document production and finally, and possibly most painful of all, the mounting legal fees resulting from our complex federal court system and adversaries tactics. How, you will be asked repeatedly, could this have been avoided? How can you avoid this next time?

One great advantage of the patent and trademark legal system that protects our new ideas and brands is the fact that most all of such rights are a matter of public record. While there are a few exceptions - trade secrets and unpublished patent applications, a targeted search of often-free electronic databases can yield a wealth of information, and identify land mines you may want to avoid.

The published and issued patents by the United States and most developed countries are available online in searchable databases. Patents can be searched by inventor (“P. Bagwell”); key words (e.g., “sofa bed”), subject matter classification (“Class 5 Beds/Subclass 12.1 Sofa Bed”), assignee or patent owner (“LANEVENTURE”), and of course patent number (such as the one you see on your competitor’s product!). Specifically, US patents can be searched at this site and European patents can be searched at this site. The resulting “hits” can be analyzed by patent counsel, who will identify both mine fields and even areas that might be in a void you want to rush to fill.

Conducting a clearance study also is vitally important prior to launching your new brand. Although conducting a search engine (e.g., Google®) inquiry on your own is invaluable, many governmental trademark databases also are available and must be searched for trademarks that share a look, sound or meaning with your proposed new word mark or logo. For example, US trademarks are searchable at this link. Your trademark attorney can help interpret the results, as well as suggest additional database for other possible conflict searches, e.g., trademarks registered only at the state level.

Spending some time and efforts searching for conflicts prior to launch can end up saving you tremendous headaches and legal fees later, and possibly avoid a visit from your local sheriff or friendly (or not so friendly!) U.S. Marshal.


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