Technology Commercialization

Technology commercialization starts with the invention or creation of something marketable – a new device, a tool, an algorithm, a software application.

Before you start to commercialize it, one of the first questions is: Who owns it? If an employee invents something marketable, employers will commonly claim that they own their employee’s invention.  However, in the case of patentable inventions, the Canadian Patent Act is silent on the question of whether an employer has any rights to an invention created by an employee. To the contrary, there is a presumption under Canadian law that an employee is the owner of his or her inventions, unless there is an express contract to the contrary, or the person was employed for the express purpose of inventing or innovating. The case of Techform Products Ltd. v. Wolda provides an interesting review of these issues, in a situation where the employer was ultimately found to have no rights to a valuable patented invention that was created for its business. 

I will be speaking today at UTI‘s Technology Commercialization Series: Commercialization Pitfalls: How to Avoid Them to review ownership issues.   

Calgary – 10:00 MT

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Copyright Trolls

Maybe you’ve heard of patent trolls – companies who own a patent or two, but don’t actually manufacture or sell any products. When they see that another company has become independently successful, they pounce, alleging patent infringement and millions of dollars in damages. The famous case of NTP v Research in Motion is the classic example.

Well, now we’re looking down the barrel of copyright trolls: advances in technology and litigation have combined to create ideal conditions for the modern copyright troll. In the US, copyright holding company Righthaven LLC, acquired copyrights to newspaper content originally published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a Nevada newspaper.  Sophisticated software can search the internet for instances that might qualify as copyright infringement. Righthaven has since filed over 100 copyright infringement lawsuits in the US.

The approach seems to be gaining traction: a Las Vegas federal judge recently ruled that Righthaven had standing to sue for copyright infringement even though the company didn’t own the copyright at the time the alleged infringement occurred.

In Canadian news, proposed Copyright Reform legislation (Bill C-32) is headed back to committee, as Parliament resumes for the fall.  If the progress of legislation is not halted (again) by an election, then the committee deliberations promise to be contentious as each party jockeys for position on the politics of copyright.

Calgary -10 MT

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When an iPhone App Infringes Copyright


A television production company noticed that audio-clips from its popular TV show were being used in a new iPhone app called “Chopper Soundboard”. (Follow-up story here) While this was an Australian company, the issue is also a common one in both Canada and the US, as owners of copyright content notice that iPhone and iPad developers will “borrow” content – images, video, audio – for use in their apps.

For the copyright owner, the practical question is usually resolved when the app is removed from the iTunes store. A relatively easy remedy, but one that does not address the copyright issues.

The main legal question – which has not yet been settled in court – is who has responsibility for the infringement?  Copyright owners have launched litigation against Apple (for example, the Australian production company Jigsaw Entertainment has made noises about a lawsuit against Apple; photographer Louie Psihoyos has sued Apple in the US for copyright infringement arising out of an iPhone app), and largely left the developers out of their cross-hairs.  However, the Agreement that developers sign with Apple is clear that developers take on the liability in the event their app infringes someone else’s copyright.

Developers: Be aware of the scope of your liability with Apple, and review the agreements with your own customers. Take care when collecting content for your app. Original or properly-licensed content will reduce risks of future copyright issues.

Copyright owners: If content is being used without authorization, get advice on the options you have for remedies under the Copyright Act.

Calgary – 11:30 MT

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Time for Sound Marks in Canada?

India recently granted its first “sound mark” to Yahoo Inc., in a development that brings India’s trade-mark registration system in line with the US, the EU, Australia and other trade-mark registries around the world. (Click here to listen the audio clip of the Yahoo yodel).

What about Canada? Although sound marks are not expressly prohibited by the Canadian Trade-marks Act, there has only been one successful registration of a sound mark in Canada (the MUSICAL NOTES DESIGN mark, which has since been expunged for failure to renew). The practice of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) has been to consistently refuse applications for sounds marks due to the procedural requirement that marks be visual in nature. This is not mandated by the definition of a “trade-mark” in the Trade-marks Act itself, but the Act does refer to the requirement of submitting a “drawing” of the mark, and court decisions have confirmed this. “A ‘mark’ must be something that can be represented visually” : Playboy Enterprises Inc. v. Germain (1987), 16 C.P.R. (3d) 517 (F.C.T.D.).  The MGM lion’s roar, which was the subject of a Canadian “sound mark” application in October, 1992 (Application No. 714314), is still before the office eighteen years later, having gone through various extensions, refusals and appeals.  It might be Canada’s longest-running application.

Is it finally time to permit sound marks in Canada? CIPO is considering some non-traditional marks – such as holograms – that can be depicted visually. Future amendments to the Trade-marks Act will probably permit registration of sound marks and other non-traditional marks in Canada, though these changes won’t likely be introduced for several years.  Listen for changes.

Related Reading: Registering Sound as a Trade-mark

Calgary – 10:00 MT

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Software License Upheld: Vernor v. Autodesk


For Canadian software companies who license their software in the US, this decision will be encouraging (Vernor v. Autodesk Inc. (September 10, 2010, US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 09-35969). Timothy Vernor purchased several used copies of Autodesk, Inc.’s AutoCAD Release 14 software from one of Autodesk’s customers. Then he resold the copies on eBay. Vernor never installed the software or agreed to the terms of the software license. 

Is it copyright infringement to re-sell a used copy of software?

The “first sale doctrine” is a defence in the US that says no, it’s not infringement because a copyright owner’s right to control sale or disposition of the copyrighted work is exhausted after the first sale occurs.  In other words, owners of copies of copyrighted works can resell those copies without needing the copyright owner’s consent.

The essence of the court’s conclusion in Vernor is that a software license is an important exception to the “first sale” defence. This is because the court found that Autodesk had not sold copies but merely licensed copies of the copyrighted work.  Where an end-user license (or EULA) is a limited license agreement in which the copyright owner reserves title to the software copies and imposes significant use and transfer restrictions on end users, then this type of license is an exception to the “first sale” defence.  In the court’s words: a “software user is a licensee rather than an owner of a copy where the copyright owner (1) specifies that the user is granted a license; (2) significantly restricts the user’s ability to transfer the software; and (3) imposes notable use restrictions.”  Canadian software vendors should review the terms of their end-user licenses to ensure that they can take advantage of this remedy in the US. 

Calgary – 10:30 MT

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Update on Patent Strategy

Courtesy of Brooks BrothersSince when are bow ties a patent issue? Since clothier Brooks Brothers was sued for a false-marking claim, related to the long-expired patent for the “Adjustolox” mechanism on their bow ties. Since the patents have expired but are still marked on the product, the company is technically open to a false-marking claim, and the appeals court in the U.S. recently ruled in Stauffer v. Brooks Brothers, Inc., No. 2009-1428, -1430, -1453 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 31, 2010) , that virtually anyone has standing to bring a lawsuit for false marking claims.

In our earlier post (Patent Marking: Update for Canadian Patent Owners), which addressed the Forest Group decision (Forest Group, Inc. v. Bon Tool Co., 590 F.3d 1295 (Fed. Cir. 2009)),we noted that false-marking claims are, in the US, one of many strategies being used by competitors.  We also note that earlier this year, in the US decision in Pequignot v. Solo Cup (Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, June 10, 2010), the appeals court also decided that knowingly marking a product with expired patents creates a rebuttable presumption of an intent to deceive the public. In the Solo Cup case, the company was successful in rebutting the presumption by gathering evidence of its decision-making process, and convincing the court that its intent was to minimize manufacturing costs, not to deceive the public.

From a Canadian patent case, here’s another patent strategy: in one of the rare cases considering a patent infringement court case versus a patent re-examination before the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), the Federal Court recently “froze” the re-examination proceedings, until the outcome of the patent infringement trial. In Prenbec Equipment Inc v Timberblade Inc. 2010 FC 23, the court decided that the nature of the evidence, and the ability to cross-examine witnesses, meant that the trial was the better venue to decide the issues. This is an important consideration in assessing tactics in the midst of patent litigation.

Calgary – 18:00 MT


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