Monday, August 21, 2006

Monitoring Intellectual Property Infringement

Obtaining intellectual property rights in new products is the first step necessary to protect new products from competitors and knock-offs. However, enforcement of intellectual property rights is equally important. In order to enforce intellectual property rights, potential infringers must first be identified. There are a number of sources that should be monitored to identify potential infringers of intellectual property rights. Here are a few suggestions for unearthing unwanted copycats and pesky knock-offs:

1. Tradeshows: The easiest way to identify potential patent and trademark infringers is to monitor industry competitors. Annual tradeshows are the first place to start because that is when new products are introduced into the marketplace. U.S. and foreign companies will display their new products and distribute promotional materials to customers and competitors. If samples are on display, sales and management team members can examine new products up close. Sometimes, companies may even offer product samples that can be further scrutinized.

It may also be beneficial to attend tradeshows in other regions around the world, especially in areas that foster cheap knock-off productions and have challenging intellectual property enforcement procedures. Identifying foreign companies is just as important as identifying U.S. companies, especially if they import infringing products into the U.S.

2. Company Websites: Additionally, company websites provide information on new products. After tradeshows, companies promote their new products via the internet to target the public at large. Large international companies will usually describe their new products, highlight important features or new improvements and identify which markets the products will be sold in.

3. Government Agencies: Information provided to the federal government can also be monitored to identify potential intellectual property infringers. Documents submitted to government agencies such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the International Trade Commission (ITC) are made available to the public. For example, using the USPTO website search engines, published and issued patents as well as trademarks and trademark applications can be identified. Also, new drug applications and abbreviated new drug applications (for generics), as well as 510k submissions are available from the FDA.

Other agencies outside of the U.S. should also be consulted, especially if a product is sold internationally. For starters, the World Intellectual Property Organization is a useful resource of international patent applications.

4. Common vendors and Customers: In some instances, common vendors and customers of competing companies will unknowing exchange confidential information regarding new products. Uncovering confidential information regarding a competitor's new product before it is produced or sold can signal that a new product may infringe existing intellectual property rights.

5. Industry Specific Media Content: The prevalence of cable television and the internet has spawned industry specific media content that can also be monitored for new information regarding competing products. Cable television programs that discuss products for particular needs are abundant, and competitors generally advertise their new products during commercial spots or as part of the program's content.

6. Tracking Litigation: Tracking a competitor's court cases may also identify potential intellectual property infringers. In industries that have only a few major players, watching a company's competitor's court cases will likely identify potential infringers of multiple products in the market.

This list is by no means all inclusive. Rather, it is a sample of sources that should be monitored for intellectual property infringers. Lastly, and intentionally omitted from this list, are patent and trademark monitoring services. I do not advocate the use of these services as they are relatively expensive, and many times, they use these same sources to identify potential intellectual property infringers. If you have additional sources that should be included on this list, please feel free to comment.

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