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What is Intellectual Property?
Legal Opinions | 2008/03/02 05:24

Intellectual Property is the product of your thinking that can be used for commercial value. In other words, you think of a song and write down the words – you have the legal right to prevent others from copying or making a song based on your lyrics. This right you have can make you money if someone is willing to pay you for your song. Maybe your boss asked you to write a computer program. Who owns the work? You may have designed a new mouse trap and have the design on computer. Or you have created a distinctive logo for your company. But Intellectual Property goes deeper than songs or even copyrights. Let’s examine the four main areas of Intellectual Property law: Trade Secrets, Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents.

Trade secrets give the owner a competitive edge. If some information has value to competitors and they don’t know about it – then it’s a trade secret. If the information was not kept reasonably safe (secret) then it’s not a trade secret. Trade secrets may be sold with the business or stolen from bad employees. Maybe a former employee didn’t sign a non-disclosure statement before going to work at the competition. Some also reverse engineer software to gain the source code. This highly protected source code for computers is their trade secret, giving them an advantage over the competition. The trick is you have to keep your trade secrets as such, secrets.

Copyrights protect all kinds of writing by singers, writers, programmers, artists, etc… These are the best known of all intellectual property. Registering with the US Copyright office can enhance the automatic protection. You must have your copyright material on paper, tape, or computer. Copyright protection applies to the “literal expression.” It doesn’t protect the “underlying” theme of the writing. It must have some creativity. You can’t copyright a simple list. You don’t actually have to have a copyright notice since March 1st, 1989. The recommended notice is “copyright” year author’s name. For example, this article will have a copyright. Copyright 2005 Stuart Simpson. But it is not necessary.

Trademarks must be a unique name, design, symbol, logo, color, container, etc…that businesses use to distinguish their goods from others in the same market. You should have a strong name for a mark, as common words receive less protection. Like Stuart’s Cold Ice Cream Company. My name and the descriptive term (cold) are weak marks. But a distinctive name like Netflix, is a strong mark. Netflix is technically a “service” mark. It falls into the same category as trademarks. Your trademark must be submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). But first, the mark must be put into use “in commerce that Congress may regulate.” This means you have to sell across state lines or have a business that caters to interstate or international travelers. After you do this, you can file another form to show the mark is actually being used. The PTO checks for similar marks. You can’t use the circled R just yet. You can only use this if your logo or mark has been registered.

Patent law gives inventor of new and special invention the right to use this invention for a fixed period of time. The US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) must find that the invention qualifies for patent protection. Your invention has to be new and novel, not obvious. What do you do with a patent? Normally, the inventors get a license agreement with a company to produce the product for a period of time. In exchange, the company pays the inventor royalties for each item sold.

Intellectual property goes further in depth on each of these items. I wanted to give you a brief description to help broaden your knowledge base when writing, creating or inventing. If your work falls into one of the above categories, do more research.

by: Stuart Simpson



A Legalpalooza Only Dickens Could Love
Legal Opinions | 2008/03/01 22:07

You can't go home again. After two federal criminal trials charging him with looting Westar Energy, David Wittig has become all too familiar with that aphorism in his six-year legal odyssey.

But if you do go home again, it seems, you should first reacquaint yourself with local legal rates, which are likely to be far less than the high prices charged on the East Coast.

That seems to be the message of he most recent legal sideshow in the Westar case, sometimes dubbed the Enron of Kansas.

First, some background: In 2002, Federal prosecutors accused Wittig and another Westar executive, Douglas Lake, of wire fraud, conspiracy, money laundering, and circumventing of internal controls in the process of "looting" Westar, an electrical utility in Topeka, Kansas.

Their first trial, in 2004, ended in a hung jury. In September 2005, the jury at their second trial convicted the men of multiple counts, but an appeals court overturned the verdicts in 2007. It also threw out many charges, saying prosecutors had failed to prove the men violated any federal regulations. Their third trial is scheduled to start on September 9.

Who has been paying Wittig's and Lake's multimillion-dollar legal bills while they have stymied their former employer all these years? Why, Westar itself. Under the company's bylaws, Wittig and Lake, as former officers, are entitled to payment of reasonable legal defense costs, at least until they are convicted of criminal wrongdoing.

Not surprisingly, Westar is getting tired of writing the checks. And so it has challenged how much it is on the hook to pay. Specifically, does "reasonable" defense costs mean reasonable for Kansas City, where Westar is based? Or reasonable for New York and Washington, D.C., where Wittig and Lake found lawyers they like?

Since 2005, Westar has fought payment of lawyers for both Wittig and Lake, suing them in separate lawsuits, claiming outrage over the high prices charged by lawyers from the East Coast — and, so far, failing miserably in each of these cases.



FSUPD, local law firm host Bike-A-Thon
Press Release | 2008/03/01 22:05

The Florida State University Police Department and the law firm of Brooks, LeBoeuf, Bennett, Foster & Gwartney is hosting the free "Stop DUI in 24 Hours Bike-A-Thon" from noon today to noon Sunday.

FSU PD Maj. Jim Russell invites FSU students and staff and concerned community members to grab their bikes and helmets and meet at FSU's Westcott Plaza between 10:30 a.m. and noon today to participate. According to event founder Major Jim Russell, this is the second year, the FSUPD is leading the bike-a-thon to raise awareness concerning impaired driving with a goal of reducing the number of DUI related offenses and fatalities.

A public send-off ceremony will be held at noon Saturday at Westcott Plaza; also from noon until 5 p.m. a free "safety village" will be staged on the Plaza by the fountain with entertainment and a chance to make donations of $10 per lap to individual or teams hoping to win with the most laps. Dean LeBoeuf, one of sponsoring attorneys, stressed this is not a race but a safe, escorted three-mile circuit through campus that anyone may enjoy. Cyclists may ride as much or as little as they choose during the 24-hour time period. Throughout the ride, events will be held to raise awareness concerning impaired driving, traffic safety, and drug and alcohol abuse.

The first responder and law enforcement cyclists will stop at FSU residence halls between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. to offer DUI awareness presentations. The ride will conclude with a public awards ceremony on the steps of the Westcott Building on Sunday at 1 p.m. Cyclists are asked to bring a helmet and bike with lights if they plan to ride in the dark. All riders will be provided with a free set of head and tail lights, however they must bring a set of batteries. Registration forms are available on-site or may be downloaded at the FSUPD website at www.police.fsu.edu, click on the FSUPD Stop DUI in 24 Hours logo in the right hand column. Cyclists under 18 must have a signed release from a parent or guardian or they will not be permitted to ride.



Williamsburg estate law firm is renamed
Press Release | 2008/03/01 22:00
A decade-old Williamsburg estate law firm is changing its name and Web site, effective today. Williamsburg Legal Associates, founded by John Sadler and the late Joseph Abdelmour, will now be known as Williamsburg Estate Planning.

The new site is www.williamsburgestateplanning.com.

Sadler also announced that free quarterly educational planning workshops would continue, and the firm is establishing a speaker's bureau offering education on estate-planning topics.

Columbia Gas is reducing the cost of gas for its customers in March about 7 percent, dropping the average customer bill from $161.77 to $150.66. Natural gas costs in Virginia are passed on with no markup.

The utility gets a regulated profit margin on the cost of delivering gas to homes. Columbia said the price decrease was spurred by a plentiful supply of natural gas industrywide and a winter in Virginia that had been 10 percent warmer than average.

The new price applies to March, April and May.

Natural gas use is measured per hundred cubic feet, or Ccf. The average customer uses about 100 Ccf in March, then drops off to 35 Ccf in May.

The $150.66 estimate of the average bill will deviate higher or lower, depending on whether people use more or less than 100 Ccf of gas.

The peanut industry is poised for an uptick in 2008, in light of higher contracts.

The industry fell on hard times after the 2002 Farm Bill ended a federal peanut program that guaranteed high prices to some farmers.

But this year, contract prices are the highest since 2002, Dell Cotton, executive director of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association, told the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

Contract prices might be higher because peanut buyers are competing for acreage with wheat and soybeans, which are selling at 10-year highs.

Prices for the jumbo-sized Virginia peanut have been reported in the range of $555 a ton, compared with last year's $470, the Farm Bureau said.

The state's peanut acreage bottomed out in 2006, when only 16,000 acres were planted. In its heyday, peanuts were harvested from 164,000 acres in 1948. Last year, farmers planted 22,000 acres.

Now is too early to tell how many acres will be planted this year.


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