Trademark, Copyright and Intellectual Property

People get confused between copyright and trademarks. The area of law is called Intellectual Property (IP).

Copyright protects the expression of an idea. This includes spoken, written and audio-visual expressions. Hence books, movies, documentaries, photos, recordings, paintings, articles, drawings, poems, songs and music are all covered by copyright (subject to the creators jurisdiction).

Trademarks (and service marks) are a distinctive sign, logo, word,  phrase or indicator used to indicate a good or service comes from a specific individual, company or group as opposed to some other source. It is designed to give consumers confidence in the quality and reputation of a good or service.

Many people say “Monster cable” is copyrighted when they actually mean it’s trademarked.

Trademarks were invented to prevent unscrupulous merchants passing off an inferior tradesman’s work for a more reputable work. So master tradesmen would make their mark on the item they’d made indicating they had approved it’s quality and finish, much like a master painter signs his work.

Really good and expensive work attracts counterfeits. Wanna purchase a watch?

Trademarks don’t have to be registered, but it’s a good idea. Then other similar trademark holders can object and everyone does the intellectual property dance.

It is supposed to be nearly impossible to trademark something generic such as the word “Elite”, but large IP practices seem to get them registered. Often a registration is canceled¬† on appeal for being too generic or if found to be in broad use by many people.

If the name is a range identifier as opposed to the main brand, and it is not attempting to pass itself off as another brand, then trademark registration is either not worth defending or too generic. So Kogan is releasing the Elite range and Panasonic also has an Elite range. Nobody is going to think they come from the same company.

My preference  is brands, ranges and models be uniquely named as it makes searching for them so much easier.

Serving on Community Service Boards

Many business people give back by serving on community service boards. This is a great way for worthy organizations to gain from your enthusiasm, skills and talent. It also helps grow your network of advice and support people.

Board members of community service organizations have legal responsibilities just like for-profit corporate boards. If you want to be effective, learn the rules. For most service organizations the rules are laid out in the constitution and applies to formal board members or “committee” members. Too many people don’t look at this document until it’s too late. I’ve seen active Not-For-Profits that have not held an Annual General Meeting for 3 years because the board blindly followed what the previous guys did. But someone forgot to have an AGM.

Some constitutions are hard to read, in that case consider updating the constitution to plain English. The existing constitution should have provisions for making changes.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with the contents of the constitution.

I am advising a non-profit organization on a internal members dispute. That’s one advantage of my background in Alternative Dispute Resolution and consulting. Sadly it means I spend too much time with people who are in the middle of arguments. Getting the emotion and heat out of a dispute is the best way to win a satisfactory resolution. That outcome may be Win-Win, Win-Lose or even Lose with damage mitigation.

This nonprofit organization had to spill its board but encountered two problems. Firstly most board members relied on their Chairman to explain this board removal process outlined in the constitution. Not enough of them checked the details themselves. Secondly the process they followed was mostly right. Had they read the constitution, they could have quoted the clause under which they acted and worded their resolutions better. Now they’ve got a vocal and unhappy minority who are threatening legal action because of some unclear wording.