Myths that drive IP Lawyers Crazy

Clients often have misconceptions about patents and trademarks. For example, a client contacted me the other day and asked that I make every effort to expedite his patent application. He wanted it granted as soon as possible, and pressed me for a best case scenario about how quickly I could obtain his patent. The client was frantic because a competitor was threatening to sue him for infringement of a patent the competitor had obtained. The client thought that obtaining a patent would make him safe from the threatened legal action. Unfortunately, it is a myth that your patent will save you from being sued by a competitor. You can obtain a patent and still be sued for infringing a patent owned by a competitor. For example, it is possible to obtain a patent for an improvement to an existing product or method, if the improvement is new and unobvious. However, if the improvement relates to something that is patented, and if in order to use the improvement it is necessary to use the subject matter of the original patent, then use of the improvement would infringe the original patent unless the owner of the original patent gave permission for such use. Thus, it is possible to obtain a patent for an invention but to be unable to work the patent without the permission of the owner of a patent for some underlying technology. When there is an allegation of patent infringement, you must either negotiate your way out of the problem (perhaps by cross-licensing) or “design around” the problem. Fortunately for my client, the client’s product is in the early stage of development and the allegation of infringement came up at the first tradeshow where the product was displayed. The client is now considering what changes can be made to the product to avoid the competitor’s patent. If the “design around” attempt is not successful or will take too long, the client has patents on some other technologies that can be used as bargaining chips in a negotiation. That same day, one of our Trademark Agents, Laura Duckett, came into my office to discuss two Trademarks a client had asked us to apply for two years previously. The Trademarks had been allowed by the Trademark Office. The problem was that, in the intervening period, the client had changed the Trademarks. With respect to one of the Trademarks, the client had asked us to apply for a Trademark consisting of two words. However, he had dropped one of the words and was now using a single word. To make matters worse, the single word was a “generic” term for the product that we will be unable to register. With respect to another of the Trademarks, the client had also asked us to apply for a Trademark consisting of two words. However, in the intervening period, he had made a substitution replacing one of the words with another word he liked better. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending upon your point of view), the Trademark Office grants you protection for the Trademark you apply for. It is a myth that the Trademark office will accommodate changes should your Trademark “evolve”. If you make material changes to your Trademark, you have to start the Trademark registration process all over again. When you get involved with Intellectual Property issues, instead of relying upon myths communicated to you by well meaning friends, seek the assistance of a Registered Patent Agent or Registered Trademark Agent in your area. A list of licensed agents is maintained on the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website at cipo.gc.ca.