Reno-Sparks business leaders talk intellectual property, copyright laws
Event a part of Northern Nevada Business Weekly's Industry View series
February 16, 2018
RENO, Nev. — Ruby Russell, co-owner of Sparks-based Stayput Beddings, believes she has a trademark and patent that is being infringed upon.
This was the chief reason why Russell attended "Intellectual Property: Tips and Strategies for Protecting your Company's Assets" — an Industry View event sponsored by the NNBW and Snell & Wilmer — on Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Atlantis Casino Resort.
"I have a patent and trademark on a top bed sheet," Russell said. "And there are two ladies that have come through and just tweaked it by about four inches, using our design."
Russell, who co-owns Stayput Beddings with her partner, Louie Scheel, came away from the event with strengthened confidence that people have crossed their intellectual property lines.
"This (event) was very helpful," she said. "We're going to write them (the infringers) a letter now."
Speaker Matthew Rozier, IP counsel at Law Offices of Snell & Wilmer, told the 80-plus business members in attendance to simply think of intellectual property as land that they own.
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"If you have developed a new bicycle seat or app, for example," Rozier said, "once you get a patent issued through the U.S. patent office, you have a property right, a document that defines the scope of your property — just like land — and you can do whatever you want with that. You can keep it to yourself to exclude others from coming onto your land, from using your bike seat or making your app and selling it as theirs. You can license it, so that gives you all the rights, like you'd have for a piece of land."
The process of getting a patent, however, is rocky terrain.
Rozier said the negotiation process can last years, and after someone discloses an invention to the public, they have one year to file a patent before the "ship has sailed" and they lose the right to patent the idea.
"It's a big deal to file quickly," Rozier added. "It used to be that you could go back and argue who invented the idea first. They (United States Patent and Trademark Office) switched to: if you have something, we want you to disclose it quickly to the public."
Fellow speaker Gregory Livingston, general counsel at Sierra Nevada Corporation, a defense contractor, stressed the importance of strong trademarks.
"The easiest thing to protect and brand around are fanciful names," said Livingston, pointing to Google as an example. "It's hard to protect marks that are generic … You don't want to come up with a product name and come out to market and get a cease and desist letter."
Livingston said making sure you're not infringing on someone else's mark could be as simple as — naturally — a Google search.
With respect to intellectual property, Livingston said it’s crucial to make sure employees sign nondisclosure agreements, making it "very clear" that they keep IP information confidential.
Rena Zatica, co-founder of Front Office Staff, a virtual receptionist service, was struck by the necessity to even have prospective clients sign NDAs when they come in to oversee their operation.
"When we bring a prospective client in, we like to show them how the process is for the phones and how we answer messages, and let them hear our girls answering phone calls," Zatica said. "Now I know we should have them sign nondisclosures when they come in … that they're not going to share this with anybody else, which is really important — I didn't realize that."