Intellectual Property 101 (patents, copyrights and trademarks... Oh my!)

Matt McKinney is an attorney at BrownWinick Attorneys at Law

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Intellectual property is a term that is commonly and loosely thrown around in the business world, but what does it mean?  The Meriam-Webster dictionary defines intellectual property as "something (such as an idea, invention, or process) that comes from a person's mind."

In a court of law, intellectual property often refers to patents, copyrights, and trademarks.  In addition to the "Big 3," intellectual property also encompasses trade-secrets (discussed here) and publicity rights.

Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks

Generally speaking, patent rights protect new, unique, and non-obvious product and process inventions.  Copyrights on the other hand can protect original works of authorship, such as literary, musical, and artistic work (e.g. sound recordings, photographs, motion pictures, and architectural works).  Finally, trademark rights can protect words, names, and symbols used to identify a business' goods or services and distinguish them from those of another.

Businesses frequently create and protect their intellectual property rights in many ways.  For instance, businesses often seek a registered trademark through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), triggering and/or enhancing protection for the mark.  Similarly, a business can seek patent rights in qualifying products or processes through the USPTO.

If you or your business is seeking to create and/or enhance protection in intellectual property that you own, control, or are developing, you should consider consulting a licensed attorney.

Beyond technical competence

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

The pilot just announced that we have arrived at our cruising altitude of 31,000 feet.  It occurs to me, at this moment, that I have few options but to trust that the pilot possesses an adequate level of technical skill to handle whatever situation we may encounter.  As I reflect on this, I confess that I find it interesting that I have placed complete trust in someone I have never seen, never met, probably will never meet, and have only heard speak about two sentences.

Yes, I trust that the leaders and staff working for this airline are technically capable.  Confident in this, I return to my laptop and think only briefly about the important responsibilities I may be called upon to perform from my assigned exit row seat.

Airplane 3Is it my good fortune to be flying the friendly skies on the airline that employs the most technically capable people? I doubt it. I assume the crews of all major airlines possess similar technical skill.

I do have a choice of airlines to fly as the flight attendant will remind me in the next hour when she repeats the phrase that I am certain she must say in her sleep by now. “We know you have a choice of airlines and we thank you for choosing to fly with us.  When your plans call for air travel in the future, we hope to see you again on one of our flights.”

Yes, I do have a choice.  How do I choose?

Like many of you, I look first to my immediate short-term interests – the flight schedules and cost.  This usually narrows my choices to two or three possibilities.  How do I choose from the short list?  I choose based on who I think will treat me the best.

That’s how most of us make the decision about who we will flatter with our business.  Across almost every industry—air travel, hospitality, financial services, retail, and so on—process and technical abilities are fairly easy to copy. The competitive advantage goes to those who treat the people they serve the best. Even when transactions are conducted business-to-business rather than business-to-consumer, it is important to realize that people are always at the center of decision-making.  Businesses don’t do business with businesses, people do business with people.  And people want to be treated well.

Research supports this. According to Harvard University, Stanford Institute and the Carnegie Foundation, only 15 percent of success is due to technical skills. In most industries, the people we serve assume a level of technical capability. It is the people skills that are the differentiator, to the tune of 85 percent.

My experience today has been satisfactory. It appears the employees I interacted with have been schooled by their leaders in the culture of their organization and expectations for customer service. I will include this airline in my future travel plans—unless and until another airline figures out how to leverage the 85percent of their success that relies on people skills and takes my experience to a new level.

Let's get sticky!

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Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Beware the Purple People Eaters: A personal look at leadership."

What do bank checks, package shipping, church bells, water, ballpoint pens, deodorant, computers, fashion, steering wheels, and a revolver have in common? Nothing…or perhaps everything. True discoveries seldom happen today by finding something new. Most often they are the result of “sticky thinking,” which occurs when people connect or stick things together in new ways for different or improved outcomes.

Born in 1944 with a bone socket hip disorder called Calve-Perthes disease, young Fredrick Smith had to walk with the aid of braces and crutches for most of his childhood.  But through a high level of dedication and hard work, he was able to overcome the disease. In the early-1960s, Fredrick attended Yale University majoring in economics. For one of his classes, he wrote a paper detailing an idea he had after realizing that a future “automated society” required a completely different system of logistics. His professor didn’t like the idea since, at the time, it wasn’t economically feasible, but that didn’t stop him from thinking about its future possibilities.1

After graduation, Fredrick went on to serve two tours in Vietnam as a platoon leader and narrowly survived a Viet Cong ambush. Upon returning from war, he wanted “to do something productive after blowing so many things up.” Fredrick took an inheritance from his father, raised an additional $91 million in venture capital, and used the idea from his paper at Yale to create what is today known as “FedEx.”

Fred Smith’s story is arguably one of the greatest entrepreneurial successes of the last century. He’s currently worth over $2.3 billion, and FedEx now ships more than 10.2 million packages daily in 220 countries.2 But for me, the most amazing part of his story isn’t the outcome or even the incredible company he founded. It’s how he got to the idea in the first place.

I believe that Fred Smith’s idea represents the definition of creativity: the act of “sticking” one thing with another in new ways. By sticking how the Federal Reserve processed checks in the late 1960s (a clearing process for an enormous quantity of checks drawn on a large multitude of banks) to the logistics necessary to “automate society,” he created an entirely new way of shipping packages overnight that didn’t previously exist.

This process of sticky thinking has occurred throughout history. Sam Colt stuck the design of a ship’s wheel to the invention of the revolver; Helen Barnett Diserens stuck the concept of the ballpoint pen to a new method of applying deodorant (the Ban Roll-On); and Steve Jobs stuck fashion design to the boring world of personal computing.

Creativity (or sticky thinking) is like a sport, in that it requires hard work to perform at a high level. Mastering the necessary skills requires a dedication to practice, practice, and more practice. Becoming a creative thinker requires the same level of dedication.

In future articles, I will provide a number of tips, tricks, methods, and ideas about how to improve our creative thinking skills. Like anything, a person’s success is often tied to their level of commitment and effort.

So, are you ready to get sticky?

Practice Challenge:  Over the next few weeks (whenever you have a “free” moment), select two completely random objects around you and attempt to force connections between them (like trying to jam a square peg in a round hole). Don’t judge the quality of the ideas; just have fun with it and bring out your inner “MacGyver.”

©2014  Anthony D. Paustian 

 

1(2008, October 9)  Fred Smith: An Overnight Success.  Retrieved November 9, 2014, from the Entrepreneur website: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/197542

2Brown, Abram (2014, January 23)  10 Things You Might Not Know About FedEx Billionaire Fred Smith.  Retrieved November 9, 2014, from the Forbes website: http://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2014/01/23/10-things-you-might-not-know-about-fedex-billionaire-fred-smith


PaustianLargeHeadDr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of Beware the Purple People Eaters: A personal look at leadership. For more information, please visit his website at www.adpaustian.com

 

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