General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

 
Volume 17, Number 3
April/May 2000

From the Editor

Guarded Ideas and Transferred Dreams


jennifer j. rose

Intellectual property conjures up images of auspiciously scientific applications, literary works, and wholesome commerce, practiced by lawyers who were pedantic engineering types with slide rules still dangling from belt loops. It was an area safely avoided by most general, solo and small firm practitioners-or so they thought. IP was considered territory as relevant to most practices as the Tibetan Navy.

The trendiest specialty still represents zones undiscovered by the ordinary rank-and-file lawyer, yet intellectual property issues are minefields waiting to explode. Intellectual property is a whole more than a simple patent, copyright, trademark, or trade secret, and it's not just for pipe-smoking intellectuals. Beavis and Butthead have just as many rights as Alistair Cooke. Heart pacemaker inventors play alongside the same playing field as the inventor of Roosteronic electronic rooster boxing.

Shortly after the invention of thought, mankind began to entertain dreams and ideas, but the burden of inventing protection of those thoughts and ideas fell upon lawyers. America alone must be some kind of thinking-person's country, because more than 6 million patents have already been registered with the U.S. Patent Office. IP lurks in every nook and cranny of modern life.

Many might claim that IP's a field easy enough to avoid by simply sending the client to a specialist. But when? And how? And what can an IP lawyer do that a general practitioner can't?

How does intellectual property differ from any other kind of property? Can a patent, trademark, or copyright simply be transferred or bequeathed just like a Ford or the family farm? What's IP really worth anyway? Can't a client simply use "just a little bit" of an NFL trademark for the local school team's T-shirts? Does Radio Shack have a cause of action against Bianca's Smut Shack? Can a new shade of chartreuse be protected? Didn't the Internet ring the death knell of copyright?

What does that © mean anyway? Portland, Maine, lawyer Chris A. Caseiro lays down the black letter in "Basics of Intellectual Property."

The funniest IP lawyer I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, Daniel S. Coolidge of Manchester, New Hampshire, makes what might be seem to be a really boring and arcane topic eminently understandable in his article, "Succession and Valuation: How to Transfer Intellectual Property Rights."

Designing a clever trademark, registering it, and slapping the ™ or ® symbol alongside it are patently obvious steps, but what can be done to fend off those seeking to steal away poachers, tortfeasors, and villains? In "Choosing and Defending a Trademark" Lisa E. Cristal and Victor F. DeFrancis explain the rights and remedies.

Susan R. Schick, a New York lawyer, explains just what insurance coverage means in "Need to Defend Against an Intellectual Property Claim? Try Your Commercial General Liability Insurance Policy."

While intellectual property certainly does have value, the person who developed it may be even more valuable to a company, employer, or partner. In "Corporate-Owned Life Insurance: Helping Your Clients Protect Their Intellectual Property Generators," Evan Polansky describes what corporate-owned split dollar life insurance is all about.

Right on your very own hard disk resides significant intellectual property issues. What if your associate, tired of waiting for that much-promised raise, leaves for greener pastures, taking along stored e-mail, client lists, documents, and the first draft of the Great American novel stored on the office computer? In "Don't Let Your Firm's Proprietary Information Walk Out the Door," Miami lawyer Samuel Lewis explains the need, even in a small and informal office, for a technology policy.

Even giving away the old 286 is fraught with dangers, as Norman, Oklahoma, lawyer Sheryn Bruehl explains in "Donating Used Computer Equipment." It's more than simply finding a needy and grateful recipient.

Each time I sign a copyright release, just like the one I've signed to write this column, I sort of close my eyes, hold my breath and sign, hardly aware of what I'm signing over. Many others do likewise, even savvy ones who've been known to scrutinize and memorize the details of a bank credit card agreement. Gina A. Hough of Washington, D.C., and Claudia Ray of New York City explain what anyone who's ever written a single word, read one, or advised someone who has really needs to understand in "Publishing: What You Need to Know about Copyrights and Contracts."

This issue of GPSolo has something for every reader, in every practice specialty or setting. You don't have to be an IP lawyer to be stimulated by what's contained among these pages.

June's issue of GPSolo will be a Technology and Practice Guide special issue, covering topics appealing to everyone from the lawyer still pecking away on an Underwood to the übergeek moonlighting for NASA.

jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, is a lawyer and writer living in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico. She can be reached at jenniferrose@abanet.org.

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