Do Intellectual Property Laws Get It Wrong On Disability?

IP law affects virtually every facet of life on earth — and while that might sound a wee bit of an exaggeration, we say it for a reason: information technology is becoming increasingly abundant, finding its way into our vehicles, kitchen appliances, even the very clothes we wear everyday. But there’s a glaring problem with IP law: inclusion. We often fail to recognize minority opinions on the legalities we rule upon all the time, and many industry analysts say that’s how we get so much wrong on a routine basis. 

One disability advocates group, IP Ability, is a community under the larger umbrella or IP Inclusive, and supports those who are both disabled and IP prodigies. The stigma of disability remains common in the United States, but IP Ability hopes to diminish that stigma over time by inviting underrepresented folks to join the team and find jobs related to intellectual property.

There’s good news, though. A recent law passed by former president Donald Trump helps reduce the waiting time for certain categories of disabled folks to receive benefits, which could help them jump back into job hunting (if able) faster. It was called the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act.

And The House recently passed the Equality Act, which is a landmark decision for LGBTQ+ rights (although it could still fall well short of the threshold needed to pass in the Senate). 

These implementations make it easier for underrepresented Americans to move on in industries that have made it difficult for them to get jobs. The Council for Disability Awareness is a nonprofit organization that helps the disabled find other means of work when traditional jobs fail them — and one of those alternative tasks includes intellectual property. Some of these jobs include specialists, docketing, client coordinators, managers, legal counselors, software developers, licensers, etc. Many of these positions can be coordinated from home.

Most people are underprepared and don’t realize that disability can happen at any time. Joshua said, “Being in my twenties at the time of the accident, protecting myself from disability was not on my mind.”

Joshua had been working a mechanical job when a 700-pound dumbwaiter fell on him, paralyzing him from the waist down. He said, “You never know from one day to the next what will happen…Protecting yourself from a disability should be on everyone’s mind, regardless of age.”

The CDA provides funds to initiatives aimed at educating the disabled — and the rest of the country about the capabilities of the disabled. The goal is to increase overall public awareness, but also to reduce financial hardship and increase planning ahead in the general population.

It’s not necessarily that IP laws themselves are designed to take advantage of the disabled. It’s that the disabled fall into a category that lawmakers rarely feel obligated to take seriously. That why disabled people have less access to jobs in the industry and reduced earning potential even if they make it through the door.

New Deal Reached Between King Saud University And Saudi Authority For Intellectual Property

A new deal between King Saud University (KSU) and the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property (SAIP) might lead to new research and new legislation relating to intellectual property (IP) after it was co-signed by KSU President Dr. Badran bin Abdulrahman Al-Omar and SAIP head Dr. Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Al-Suwailem. The purpose of the deal is to open up both entities to the routine exchange of IP-related data and should provide a legal blanket for projects authorized by either organization.

The two organizations determined that the Arab world has fallen behind other developed nations, which makes it far more difficult to keep up with the fast pace of technology development. Holding onto trade secrets stolen by everyone else is even harder. The agreement should help the two strengthen existing training in the field while guaranteeing the design of new courses. 

KSU is known for supporting IP rights in Arab states. It also has nearly 1,500 patents of its own, which has resulted in a high ranking for overall number of patents in universities around the world. And it’s certainly the highest ranked university for patents among Arab nations. 

SAIP has around 450 patents as well, all of which should be protected by this agreement.

The agreement could also strengthen other organizations’ hold on their own property in the Arab world. The Arab Society for Intellectual Property (ASIP) is based in Munich, but its leaders understand the benefits of the new deal. And that’s great, since the point of their own organization was to establish an Arab entity in order to keep the IP profession organized. 

ASIP has been running since 1987, and has made strides in advancing IP protections not just in Arab nations but around the world. It also cooperates with international entities and governments around the world in order to do this more successfully.

How Divorce Tends To Sidestep Intellectual Property Laws

A collaborative divorce usually means that a courtroom appearance and judge are to be avoided at all costs. These are separate from uncontested divorces, but generally come with similar consequences because no one’s fighting too hard about who gets which assets (or the kids). And that makes them somewhat unique — because in both types of divorce proceedings, the assets most often overlooked are intellectual in nature.

And that’s exactly how a collaborative divorce or uncontested divorce often sidestep intellectual property laws — no one thinks to enforce them because few people realize they apply. There is too little attorney oversight in cases that occur so quickly. But IP law is still relevant, and divorcing parties should know more about what happens to their IP when they split apart.

First, you need to figure out who owns what. The question to ask is obvious: whose idea was this? But the more important information is how the law views ownership. Who patented, trademarked, or copyrighted the idea? And is that relevant? 

Beverly Hills divorce attorney Emily E. Rubenstein said, “Since our practice is in Los Angeles, we often deal with issues of intellectual property, for example music and film rights. Intellectual property assets tend to be overlooked. Sometimes parties will overlook assets which are held abroad, thinking a U.S. court does not have jurisdiction over such assets.”

But that’s not necessarily the case.

In addition to “who owns it,” you need information about the value of assets, documentation of purchase (if there was a purchase), when and where, etc. Whether or not the asset was purchased using funds in a joint bank account will also interest attorneys on both sides. They’ll want to know if that could factor into who should own it moving forward. 

Keep in mind that community assets aren’t always defined so simply. Tangibility often has nothing to do with what belongs to someone (which is why IP can be overlooked), even though everyone thinks you can only divide that which can be seen. But equity is different from equality, and divorce is about equity. That’s why one person’s divorce might result in financial assets being split down the middle, while another person’s could result in a lopsided split. 

Time and effort are included as intangible assets. Divorcing couples are legally required to disclose information related to the aforementioned IP, copyrights, patents, etc. Although the attorneys will want to look at who created or owns these intangible assets, that doesn’t necessarily mean the creator will keep 100 percent of the IP. They can be divided too.

And therein lies the problem.

According to Judy Burger, “That property’s value can be a problem. A work of art or invention may not be profitable at the time of divorce but could generate future income. Determining whether an ex-spouse receives any future profits from intellectual property is a complicated issue.”

Divorces that result in a split without the division of IP assets are often “reopened” later when one party or the other decides to sue for these future assets.

Could An Intellectual Property Rules Waiver Save People From COVID?

Hundreds of progressive think tanks have requested that President Joe Biden waive the World Trade Organization (WTO) Intellectual property (IP) rules and regulations. Waiving these rules would likely kickstart the production of test kits, treatment regimens, and vaccines. Johnson & Johnson recently provided us with a third highly effective vaccine, but thousands are still dying. These think tanks believe that hundreds of thousands could be saved by waiving the rule.

Right now, the IP rules provide Big Pharma with relative exclusivity in determining how to manufacture and disseminate testing kits and vaccines, which could result in more lives lost.

Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) said, “As a global community, we must come together and use every tool at our disposal to stop this pandemic. Unfortunately, we have seen intellectual property rules and corporate greed have disastrous impacts for public health during past epidemics, and we need to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

There’s a wide disparity between what Big Pharma is allowed to do and what the taxpayers want them to do — which matters more because of how much money the taxpayers give them despite their control over the system they’ve gamed for decades to their own advantage.

Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) gives Big Pharma control over the information tech used to develop medicine.

Senior policy analyst at Health GAP and professor of law for Northeastern University, Brook baker believes that easing these burdens will save lives. She said, “As an expert in intellectual property law and access to life-saving medicines, I can assure the Biden administration that intellectual property barriers are real, and they’re blocking millions of people around the world from accessing life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. By obstructing the TRIPS waiver proposal, President Biden is breaking his promise to share COVID-19 vaccine technologies with the world.”

Biden recently committed to sharing vaccine technology with the world — which is why some people are urging him to uphold his promises to do the right thing.

The Impacts Of Driverless Vehicles On Intellectual Property Law

Industry analysts (in this case: lawyers) believe that there will be an influx of new intellectual property lawsuits in the automotive industry due to new technologies surrounding driverless vehicles. The reason is simple enough. Auto manufacturers aren’t the only ones trying to conceive and adapt these technologies. Ten years ago, that might have been the case. Now you have behemoths like Apple, Google, Microsoft (and basically every other tech giant) in on the game.

Although traditional car manufacturers don’t often sue one another over IP (because they’ve seen the can of worms that can open easily enough from what’s happened in big tech), the introduction of, well, big tech, into their arena could increase the burden on everyone. New legislation is very much needed to figure out what to do about IP relating to automated vehicles in and outside of traditional car manufacturers.

And where have driverless vehicles been tested the most? In that United States, that would be in sunny states like California and Nevada. Basically, wherever the weather cooperates on a nearly daily basis. Socal injury lawyers might have trouble attracting clients who’ve actually been injured if their strategies and the laws underlying them don’t change soon. Driverless vehicles will likely reduce the accident rate by an order of magnitude.

But the good news is that the flood of legislation is coming soon.

Even if lawmakers weren’t interested (they are), there has been an endless stream of new patents for underlying technologies for driverless vehicles. For now, there are plenty of issues relating to technology or IP that need to be sorted out first. These include:

  • A definitive answer to who is liable when an accident occurs due to collision avoidance technologies already on the market. You’ve already seen these technologies in the vehicles you rent or own: blind spot detection, lane control, automatic braking, etc.
  • Determining who controls intellectual properties like automatic parking, automotive engine control circuits, LIDAR, WiFi, etc.
  • Lawmakers should take note of how AI works to pair with machine learning without much human involvement. How will cybersecurity concerns be addressed? We’ve all seen those very imaginative movies by now…

The market for driverless vehicles will likely exceed $42 billion by the year 2025. That’s a hefty sum, and everyone wants their fair share of the pie. 

But there’s good news, too. Our predictions could be completely wrong! Many car manufacturers and tech companies acknowledge the benefits of collaboration to get their vehicles on the market sooner. They realize that the growth of this market will explode, and it’s more money in everyone’s pockets. And they technically don’t have any choice but to collaborate. Where can they find the bright minds capable of tackling the type of algorithms necessary to make this technology a reality? Silicon Valley. And who owns Silicon Valley? …Big tech. 

There have been several high-profile collaborations already, including Google’s agreement with Chrysler to help produce minivans or Ford’s investment in a San Francisco-based company called Pivotal to develop software. These types of arrangements will only become more common as time goes on.

Intellectual Property Lawsuits No One Saw Coming

To say that intellectual property is a difficult concept for people to wrap their heads around is an understatement. Technically, you can’t trademark or patent an “idea.” You can only trademark something tangible. But what does that mean in reference to IP? You could trademark a company name or logo because those fall under IP law. You could trademark an underlying technology. Anyway, the point is that these weird rules have led to some amusing lawsuits. Here are a few you might enjoy hearing about.

The Hershey company sued a number of marijuana dispensaries in Washington and Colorado directly after pot was legalized in those states because the dispensaries were allegedly selling knockoffs with names like “Reefers Peanut Butter Cups.” Hershey didn’t find this nearly as amusing as we do. Sadly, Hershey won the trademark case.

Know who Anna Short Harrington was? Don’t worry — no one does. But one of her descendants has sued Quaker Oats and PepsiCo for a whopping $2 billion. The descendant alleges that Quaker Oats and PepsiCo didn’t properly pay Harrington for using her likeness on Aunt Jemima bottles. The lawsuit questioned Harrington’s legal status as an employee or contractor. The Minnesota judge threw out the case.

You’ll remember that we mentioned in a previous post a court ruling that allows IPR proceedings for those who would like to challenge a patent. Basically, these go directly through the Patent Office, and have become the easiest way to mount a challenge. But bigger companies — like Big Pharma, for example — never expected to be challenged in quite this way. That’s because it’s pretty much just a money grab for the challenger.

But how does that make anyone money? If you answered the stock market, you hit that nail on the head. The challenger would either buy or sell shares of stock depending on whether the IPR would likely harm or help a particular company. Instant money. And really shady.

What Is A Land Patent — And How Can I File One?

To own a big asset in the United States, you usually have to wave around a little piece of paper with your name and signature under the address. It’s a government-provided “title” or “deed” to prove ownership — but it’s also called a land patent after certain conditions have been met. This patent works much like intellectual property ownership or any other old patent. Usually, another person (or the government) cannot steal it from you. There are exceptions, but we’ll pretend you already know about them for now. 

Land patents are nothing new, and have been around since before the United States declared independence from the Brits. For example, the Virginia Colony in 1722 was made up of a great deal of open land that had yet to be patented. It was considered a part of the frontier where the Native Americans held authority — until we the shadowy puppet masters decided to patent it to colonists. Governor Spotswood signed the Treaty of Albany, which pushed the Iroquois even farther back while claiming the land for Virginia residents. Part of the land claimed was in Northern Virginia, along with Loudon.

Not surprisingly, even the land patents of today were derived wholly from old English law. 

There are a few things to know about land patents, but first we need to define the differences between public land and public domain. Public land refers to any land that is being used for a specific use, like national forest, national parks, or wilderness. Public domain refers to any land owned for private use, even when that land is “conveyed” to the U.S. government for its use. 

But land patents don’t mean ownership the way most of us know. They convey certain rights to the owner. Land provided under a patent cannot be taxed, foreclosed upon, civilly litigated against, used by the state or federal government for other purposes, etc. If there is well water under the land, the owner of the patent also owns the water. 

Land patents have associated disadvantages as well. You’ll find it difficult to obtain financing for the land, emergency services are not obligated to visit the land (because remember: no taxes), and any such service is subject to a separate contract with the land patent owner. For most people, these disadvantages make it less appetizing to get a land patent. 

Those interested in obtaining a land patent must first produce proof that you own the land you want patented, and you must know the exact boundaries of the property. After procuring the requisite information, take the property deed and description to the BLM and request the patent. Don’t expect this to be a short process. The documents you provided will be used to make a copy of the land patent for you. 

Many people obtain land patents when they fear that debt might lead to the seizure of property. The patent essentially protects the owner from this possibility — and the owner can never be forced into accepting debt on that property.

2020 Roundup: Overview Of Patent Law Decisions

It was a big year for intellectual property and patent law, in part because we voted out one president and voted in another. President Biden’s policies will certainly affect how these internationally tangled laws work moving forward, but 2020 had bigger impacts that go far beyond the president in office. The United States Supreme Court continues to weigh in on intellectual property law, and these are a few important decisions.

The Federal Circuit was also involved in adapting patent laws to be more consumer-friendly, especially in the computer technology industry. Life science also saw a monumental shift when the Federal Circuit decided that a bite-sized piece of DNA “enriched” in fetal DNA could be legally patented. 

The computer technology case resulted in a significant clarification of the law: commercial practices regarding networking are not eligible to be patented. 

Perhaps not as important a case, but Tom Brady has once again filed for a number of trademarks to protect his “alternative” names. He had formerly requested to trademark the name “Tom Terrific” but was essentially laughed out of court because there was a connection to a half-of-famer named Tom Seaver. 

Courts also ruled that an inter-parties review (or IPR) can be used to challenge certain types of patents, which effectively allows a challenger to fight a competitor for a particular patent via a year-long process in the Patent Office. 

Allen v. North Carolina resulted in a ruling by the Supreme Court that sets the precedent by which Congress should be barred from abrogating a state’s immunity in cases involving copyright infringement lawsuits. This allowed the aforementioned case to proceed to court. Allen was suing the state of North Carolina for using his photos taken during the salvaging of the famous Blackbeard wreck.

And believe it or not…another case led to a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals decision determining that a particular color scheme can be trademarked because it is potentially distinctive to the consumer.

How Does Bankruptcy Affect Your Intellectual Property Rights?

We’ve all been affected by the pandemic in equal parts disbelief in horror. Not all of us have had to deal with the loss of a loved one. Others have lost their jobs or been forced to close down their business for fear of bankruptcy. Bankruptcy filings had already catapulted upward about 120 percent from 2019 levels by August of 2020 — and they weren’t showing signs of slowing down. And it’s bankruptcy that has impacts that are neither seen nor heard.

Here’s how bankruptcy affects your intellectual property rights. Pay close attention if you might be dangerously close to claiming bankruptcy yourself, because having all the facts will help you avoid some of the risks commonly associated with a Chapter 7 personal option.

When filing for either a Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a few things happen all at once. Basically, the bankruptcy means that a new “estate” is created. This estate consists of all of your old estate’s assets. This shift means that the resources are defined differently and you’re only partially responsible for paying what you owe (i.e. you’ll pay what you can, but probably not everything). 

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing only exists to expedite liquidation of assets to pay creditors. Court generally appoints a trustee to make all this happen in a timely manner — and that trustee controls the new “estate.” Not you.

The Chapter 11 filing is somewhat different. Instead of leaving the debtor in financial ruin, this filing could leave a person on their feet. The same goes for a larger corporation. The debtor has more control over the process, and is allowed to reorganize assets or continue to operate in order to have a better chance to reduce debt over a short period of time. 

There are a few things to keep in mind about bankruptcy and your own rights. First, owning intellectual property commonly results in litigation. Other businesses want what you have, and they’re willing to test the law by taking you to court. But here’s the thing: when you file for any type of bankruptcy, court cases generally get put on hold. There are a number of exceptions, but in general it’s one way to pause a case.

The stay  is meant to prevent “different creditors from bringing different proceedings in different courts, thereby setting in motion a free-for-all in which opposing interests maneuver to capture the lion’s share of the debtor’s assets.”

Perhaps more interestingly is that the debtor still preserves their right to sue. Keep in mind, “There is…no policy of preventing persons whom the bankrupt has sued from protecting their legal rights.” This is a relevant legal matter for some who believe they can game the system — for example, some ballsier corporations have used bankruptcy as a legal gambit to prevent a lawsuit from moving forward only to countersue. They rarely work the way the debtor thought they might. Defendants always preserve the right to defend.

What Are Dr. Salvatore Pais’s UFO Patent Experiments?

Every once in a while we hear about a specific patent that leaves us scratching our heads — in a legal sense, anyway. Not everything can be patented. For example, theories, ideas, laws of nature, etc. None of these things can be patented. They cannot be owned. If you want to patent an “idea” you need to provide the structure for that idea, such as when an author writes a story. The initial concept can’t be owned, but the author owns the story he put into place based on that concept.

If it sounds difficult to understand, that’s because it is. Lawyers and judges have struggled to untangle patent laws since almost the exact moment they were put into law.

So when we hear about a “UFO patent” it’s not surprise that people start wondering: What is that — and can anyone really patent it?

Dr. Salvatore Pais’s body of work contributed to what we now know as the “Pais Effect,” which is a theoretical concept that could one day allow us to generate power for or propel spaceships. Okay, but we already said theories cannot be patented. And they can’t. But Dr. Pais and others have spent countless hours trying to make sense of his High Energy Electromagnetic Field Generator (HEEMFG) experiments. And the HEEMFG isn’t a theory or concept — it’s a structure based on them. That means it can be part of a patent.

And while it might sound like work based on extraterrestrial technology, that’s not the reason it’s called the UFO patent. The Navy adopted that name because the weird science on which it’s based is widely considered to be UFO-like. It’s futuristic. It’s cool. 

Recently, Dr. Pais patented plans for a fusion reactor — and one that could fit inside a car at that. While the HEEMFG experiments have reportedly ended, his next venture could be even more interesting!