A Discussion on Intellectual Property with Elizabeth Erickson and Woodshed Agency

Woodshed Agency interviewed Quinn IP lawyer Elizabeth Erickson about intellectual property law, when and how best to protect your intellectual property, and the globalization of IP law in a worldwide marketplace. At Quinn IP Law, we’re proud to have a team of intellectual property attorneys who are excited and passionate about what they do – Elizabeth is no exception!

Elizabeth started her career as a lobbyist. She worked with technology companies at the beginning stages of their emergence onto the market – including heavy-hitters like Tesla and Uber. It was the innovation these companies brought to the field of technology that inspired Elizabeth to attend law school and help others bring their tech ideas to life.

Currently, Elizabeth is an intellectual property attorney at Quinn IP Law who specializes in trademarks and copyrights. She works with companies large and small – from start-ups to full-scale corporations – in order to protect their intellectual property rights, names, and ideas.  In her role, individuals or companies bring her their ideas and Elizabeth crafts a strategy  to bring their ideas to life. The process is very collaborative. She explains how the laws apply, how to best utilize the laws to protect their unique aspects, and walks them through the process of protecting their intellectual property from start to finish.

What Exactly Is Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual Property Law is becoming an industry of more and more importance as technology and globalization increase in prevalence. IP law covers intangible creations of the mind, such as inventions, designs, literary creations, and more.

The umbrella of “intellectual property” can be broken down into sub-categories such as trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets. These various categories have different types of protections. Trademarks are source identifiers and protect things such as names, symbols, or expressions used in commerce. Copyrights protect creative expressions of ideas; this work can be literary, artistic, or musical among others. A patent gives you the power to prevent others from manufacturing, using, or selling your invention for a specified amount of time. Finally, a trade secret protects intellectual property such as formulas, processes, patterns, designs, etc. that has financial and/or economic value to the individual or company.

Common Questions About Intellectual Property

#1. Pricing – what can someone expect to spend? The truth of the matter is, the cost you pay for legal assistance to protect your idea or invention will vary depending on what you’re looking for. Items that offer more protections (such as patents) are going to cost more, while items like trade secrets – where you already possess the secret and are simply putting regulations in place to protect it – are often less expensive. When it comes to pricing, it’s important to keep in mind that investing in something with more protections can be financially beneficial in the long-run. When making this decision for yourself, you need to weigh the pros (bargaining power, marketing strategy, greater return-on-investment) with the costs.

Quinn IP Law offers a variety of pricing options that are customized to our clients. From flat-rate pricing to personalized packages, we’re willing to work with our clients to figure out what’s feasible and what you can afford.

#2. How long does it take to get your idea, name, invention, etc. protected? Like with pricing, it depends on what exactly it is you’re looking to protect. If it is an invention, the patent process typically is the longest path to registration — often taking a minimum of one year to complete. If you’re looking to protect a company name or product through trademark law or trying to protect company secrets by way of trade secret protection, these are generally faster to accomplish, taking months to a year depending on the complexity. A copyright protecting the expression of your ideas generally only takes a few months.

#3. When should you seek out an IP attorney?

The earlier you put your rights on record, the better. It gives you an evidentiary record if anyone were to challenge your idea, and the process of finalizing registration may take a while due to correspondence with governmental agencies, thus it is recommended you get started as soon as possible.

When you do finally set up a meeting with an attorney, make sure to discuss what’s feasible. What monetary constraints are there, what are your long-term and short-term goals? Where do you want to sell your product? (In the U.S.? Globally?) In many cases, especially if you are completing these tasks on behalf of a larger company, you may need to justify your expenses. This is your opportunity to cross your t’s and dot your i’s.

#4. Genericide and Intellectual Property

The “genericide” of a trademark occurs when a term starts to be used in ways it’s not intended to be. Popular examples of this are Google, Band Aid, Velcro, and Kleenex. Genericide can actually lead to a name, word, or term losing its ability to be trademarked because it no longer identifies the original product or source (and, therefore, becomes less identifiable as branding on its own). Individuals and companies can have their lawyers “police” incorrect uses of the brand/product name to protect the mark and avoid genericide.

#5. Why should I register my intellectual property?

Protecting your company and the time and efforts you’ve put into developing your ideas is just one of the many great reasons to protect your intellectual property. Registrations allow you to cement your rights, block competitive products, and dissuade others from potentially entering the market and capturing a share of your profits. Various other rights attach depending on the type of intellectual property secured. Registering your intellectual property is almost always a good idea. For those familiar with the television show Shark Tank, you know that the Sharks inevitably ask, “do you have the rights to that?” in a nod to protecting the product with intellectual property.

#5 How do I stop counterfeiting?

The U.S. economy’s annual loses exceed $225 billion in counterfeit goods, pirated software, and theft of trade secrets and could be as high as $600 billion according to the IP Commission Report. Counterfeit products can pose a significant threat – not just because of a loss of sales, but also because they are often made with lesser-quality materials and, if people don’t realize that what they’re purchasing is counterfeit, it could also lead to a bad brand reputation.

In the same way that counterfeiters are creative, lawyers and legislators are also becoming more creative with the ways in which intellectual property is protected. Unfortunately, it’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. Anytime counterfeits appear, there are a lot of factors to consider when pursuing legal recourse: where is it being sold? Who are the sellers? Where does the counterfeit group physically exist (in the world?) Often, the first step is to send a cease-and-desist order. After that, you can move forward with other legal strategies; just keep in mind that they may not always be financially viable.

A benefit of trademark is the ability to register the mark with customs and border control. If your product is trademarked, a list will be distributed to customs and border patrol so they can be on the lookout for counterfeit products.

In Conclusion

To learn more about what Elizabeth had to say about intellectual property and globalization as well as entrepreneurship in Metro Detroit, make sure to check out Episode 170 of the Woodshed Agency podcast “Successfully Funded”! If you have any questions about the points we’ve outlined above, reach out to us to learn more about how intellectual property laws apply to your idea.