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Intellectual property gets more attention

John Seelmeyer

Tim Brisson offers this definition of the often-mooshy world of intellectual property: Say your pal takes something to the roof of your business and drops it on your head.

If it doesn’t hurt, it’s intellectual property, said Brisson, a partner in Sierra Patent Group.

The firm based in Stateline specializes in intellectual property.

Whether it hurts or not, questions surrounding intellectual property are getting a closer look by northern Nevada businesses.

A couple of bills on the subject are rattling around the legislature.

Business owners and managers either on their own or with encouragement from their lawyers increasingly are taking stock of their intellectual property and making sure it’s properly protected.

They often start with trademarks.

How can you tell if your business has a trademark that should be protected? Ken D’Allesandro, founder of Sierra Patent Group and a 20-year veteran of intellectual property law, applies a couple of quick tests.

If you’d be angered if a competitor at a trade show was selling something under a name that you’d devised, you might have a name that’s in need of trademark protection.

Another test arises when customers begin asking for your product or service by its name an indication that the name has value to your business.

While those tests help business owners and their legal counsel know when trademark protection is necessary, D’Allesandro said the best course is to think about trademark protection from the first.

And that means that the ability to trademark a name will be an important part of the process of selecting the name.

“The best trademarks are totally fanciful,” said Brisson.

“Kodak, for example.

That’s a totally made-up word.”

A registered trademark is easier to defend legally, D’Allesandro said.

A bill making its way through the Nevada legislature calls for treble damages plus attorney’s fees in trademark violation cases.

“The ability to get attorney’s fees is very, very important,” he said.

And a trademark must be protected to keep it from sliding into the public domain, which doesn’t afford any ownership rights.

The maker of Frisbee toys, for example, sends polite but firm notes to publications that use the product’s name as a generic description of flying discs.

Patents deserve equally close attention in an inventory of intellectual property.

Brisson, whose undergraduate degree is in engineering physics, said some business owners mistakenly believe patents cover only big technological shifts the creation of the light bulb for instance while most patents instead are issued for small steps forward.

D’Allesandro noted, too, the patent process is filled with pitfalls.

An invention that has been sold or displayed to the public for a year, for instance, isn’t eligible for patent protection.

Despite the expense and trouble involved with a patent, Brisson said companies that fail to protect their products often find their best sellers under attack from fakes.

“Thieves are lazy,” he said.

“Nobody ever litigates a dud.”