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Intellectual property law is good for creativity and the economy

Special to the Legal News

Published: September 4, 2013

When he took office, President Obama created the new position of Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator because, as he put it, “Our greatest asset is the innovation and the ingenuity and creativity of the American people.”

The value of intellectual property, the creative side of business and industry, is hard to overlook.

Money Morning recently reported that intellectual property intensive industries added over $5.06 trillion in value to the U.S. market in 2010 alone. That was nearly 35 percent of the United States’ GDP that year.

According to the latest available figures from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a total of 576,763 patent applications were filed in the U.S. in 2012.

Over half of those were for inventions, or utility patents, and over 40 thousand were for design.

From 2000 to 2011, 4,102 patents were issued to inventors in Central Ohio.

Those numbers don’t include trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, all part of the huge sector of law that is intellectual property.

It should come as no surprise then that intellectual property law is a constantly growing field of practice for attorneys and one that is perpetually expanding both at home and beyond the borders of the U.S.

“We’ve had a surprising amount of work internationally,” said Jeff Standley, founding partner of Standley Law Group. “We do a lot of work in Europe and Asia with clients who have operations in those locations.”

Standley said his firm is active in over 100 countries with patent or trademark matters, something he attributed to globalization and the increasingly important role of the Internet.

“The Internet has made it so much easier to do that sort of work than ever before,” he said. “We can now communicate across time zones and with foreign-based clients.”

But the Internet has also brought with it some tougher challenges.

Leon Bass, of counsel to Taft Stettinus & Hollister, said the Internet has caused copyright infringement on a much wider scale.

“Our clients have had to battle intellectual property issues on a more challenging and broader frontier,” said Bass.

However, he also noted that the Internet makes it easier to catch possible infringement. Bass represents movie studios and filmmakers who often see their films being widely copied and distributed online, and they actively file lawsuits against people that do so.

Standley, who is a former engineer and deals regularly with computer software, electrical and mechanical property, has also noticed that the Internet has highlighted more intellectual property infringement than ever before.

“No question about it. The Internet has caused more actions to occur in a number of different ways,” he said. “For example, people are recognizing similar trademarks to their own on the Internet whereas, years ago, they would never have even known about a company in another state using their trademark. They probably would never have even found out.”

With this easy access to information, the role of government has also been increasing.

Current intellectual property law, however, has recently been the subject of harsh scrutiny and heated debate.

Some say legislation like the 2011 America Invents Act stymies innovation and adds to expensive litigation, squashing the ability of the little guy to compete with big companies that can hire people to invent things for them and then pay for any number of patents.

The act essentially moved the U.S. patent system from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system, aligning it more closely with systems in place around the rest of the world.

In other words, the old system granted a patent to the first inventor to come up with an idea. With the recent legislation, the inventor who moves fastest and gets to the patent office first is generally granted the rights to an invention.

“It’s a lot closer to what the rest of the world has been doing,” said Standley. “We’re all operating under a new set of rules than we were for may years, and there’s different views as to whether it’s good or bad for the country. I tend to think it falls on the good side.”

Proponents of the recent legislation and efforts of the government to reform intellectual property law think that it fosters creativity and stimulates competition in areas like the arts, science and technology.

“Intellectual property law is intended to create balance between the rights of the creators to be compensated and the rights of the public to use and enjoy art, music and inventions,” said Bass. “The law recognizes a need to incentivize creators.”

One thing is for certain, with the ever-expanding role of the Internet and ease of access to mountains of information, intellectual property is a field of the law that will never stop evolving.

The reason: Innovation begets innovation.

“The technology that inventors are developing is always changing,” according to Standley, who said that happens to be one of the most interesting parts of what he does, but also the biggest challenge.

“Just when you feel that you know technology pretty well, here comes a new approach to it,” he said. “But that’s also what makes it fun, that constant change.”

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