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Kern County California Intellectual Property Law Blog

Trademarks and service marks are important for your business

When you have a business that sells goods or provides services, you might think of a catchy phrase that embodies the message you are trying to send to your customers. This catchy phrase, product name or similar item might be something that you don't want anyone to steal.

You can often protect your special wording or symbol as a trademark. In the case of a product, you would be able to use the "TM" symbol that is known for this. If you have a service, the symbol would be an "SM" symbol because you have a service mark.

Artists should consider legal help with licensing

There are a lot of artists who have incredible talent -- but they have no idea how to turn that talent into an income.

Part of the problem is that artistic talent and business knowledge, while not mutually exclusive, don't necessarily develop equally at the same time. Many artists think that their only option to make money from their work is to sell it off, one piece at a time. They don't realize that it's possible to use licensing agreements as a way to both promote their art and allow pieces to be duplicated and sold -- while still either reserving the original for sale later or selling the original to a single buyer.

Protecting valuable trade secrets

The theft of trade secrets has become a major cyber concern for organizations across the globe. As much as $300 billion annually is lost by companies and agencies each year because of trade secret theft -- that's well over the amount of value the United States exported to the entire European Union in 2013, so it's not a small number. While the theft of intellectual property and is often enabled by technology devices, such as flash and external drives that now hold terabytes worth of data, the culprit can often be an existing or former employee.

To protect trade secrets, organizations have to tighten down cyber security while also creating strong security policies and practices. Companies should begin with defining exactly what information it deems to be trade secrets. For a food service company, the recipes and ingredient lists might be highly valuable; for a technology company, the schematics of various devices might need to be guarded. Trade secrets are any information that has commercial value, is not easy to attain through proper, legal channels, and is subject to efforts to maintain the confidentiality of the data.

3 actions for protecting trade secrets

You put a lot of work into your brand, probably over a long period of time, but all it takes is one leak in your company to diminish brand value by spilling trade secrets across the market. By taking a proactive approach, you can help prevent trade secrets from being revealed. Here's a look at three ways you can protect your trade secrets.

First, it's essential to make sure your business procedures support any nondisclosure agreements you have. While it's a good idea to get agreements from employees that they won't disclose information to third parties, especially after they leave the company, your daily processes have to back that up. That means keeping information to need-to-know basis, creating strong security protocols for data and having a plan in place to ensure that employees who leave the company don't leave with digital or hard copy data in any format.

The war on weak software patents: Could you be impacted?

Software patents have been a point of contention for almost two decades, and current changes in the patent environment have created new challenges for businesses with existing patents. The issues stem partly from the fact that some believe patents shouldn't be issued for certain types of software, and new support for that view could be invalidating thousands of existing patents.

One reason software is contentious when it comes to patents is because many programs simply automate and existing business procedure. For some, automating what is already in existence isn't enough to support a patent. Courts currently tend to rely on a de facto ruling that doesn't support obtaining or maintaining a patent for a product that's only purpose is to automate existing functions.

Change in guard for patent and trademark advisory committees

In early January, the United States Patent and Trademark Office announced several new members for two advisory committees related to the office. The new members are to serve three-year terms in their respective offices.

The committees in question are the Trademark Public Advisory Committee and the Patient Public Advisory Committee. Each committee has nine total members, with members rotating off of the committees after their term is ended. The purpose of the committees is to advise the Secretary of Commerce and related agencies regarding managing of both the patent and the trademark office. As such, businesses working with patents and trademarks might want to make themselves somewhat familiar with the advisers.

3 tips for dealing with licensing agreements

Licensing agreements can be complex, and they can ultimately impact whether a business or product line does well in the market. At the very heart of these legal terms, though, the agreements are contracts, and businesses should treat them as such. Here are three tips for ensuring you're protected when dealing with licensing agreements.

Everything needs to be in writing in a formal agreement. Most business owners and managers today know that contracts are necessary and that we, as a society, don't function on handshake agreements anymore. However, many people make the mistake of agreeing verbally to smaller areas as they negotiate a contract and then failing to ensure those details are formally recorded in the document. At the end of the day, if it isn't spelled out in the written agreement, you don't have a solid record of the arrangement.

Filing bankruptcy: Protecting yourself and your brand

Did you know that businesses could file bankruptcy and still remain open? Just as individuals can choose to fully liquidate assets during a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or can create repayment plans and keep some assets during a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, business owners have a number of options when seeking debt relief.

Depending on the size of your business and how your debt is structured, you might be able to choose from Chapter 13, Chapter 11 or Chapter 12 bankruptcy. Chapter 12 bankruptcy is a solution specific to the agricultural industry, and it's one of the newer forms of bankruptcy available. It lets family farmers or fisherman -- those that own smaller businesses in the industry -- restructure their debt and save their farm or business equipment from foreclosure or repossession. Chapter 12 is similar to Chapter 13, but it provides some additional niche-based protections.

Don't get trapped in unfruitful real estate litigation

The amount of disputes that can arise during the real estate transaction or development process are seemingly endless, and it can be easy to become trapped by litigation that gets you nowhere. To avoid floundering in courts or eating up your business budget with unnecessary legal fees, you need a plan of action and numerous exit strategies before you approach any project or legal action.

One way to ensure that you have a strong plan of action in place is to work with an experienced business law professional. Our firm is experienced in handling a long list of real estate-related issues ranging from contract disputes to zoning and boundary arguments. We know that these disputes are often complex and they come with many moving parts, which we can help you juggle more successfully.

How can you strengthen your invention patent?

Many people believe that filing for an invention on a patent provides blanket coverage against idea theft, but that isn't always the case. A patent does provide a lot of protection, but competitors often find ways to work around your claim by making slight changes, solving slightly different problems or claiming they made the invention before you. Here are three tips to strengthening your patent.

First, engage in plenty of research. If you have an idea, take a lot of time to make sure it's not already out there and patented in some way. Working with a patent attorney to ensure that your idea is different enough from existing patents and ideas to stand on its own. Getting a lawyer involved early also helps you document the invention process for further protection.

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