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American Pet Products Association, Inc.

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Law Library Article

DISCLAIMER: Although the material contained in this section is accurate as of the date published, due to the wide variety of material included, and the changing nature of the legislative and regulatory system, the material may be dated and is subject to change at any time. APPA therefore does not warrant the accuracy of the following material. The following information is not intended to substitute for legal advice. APPA takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on this Website. Reliance on the information presented on this site is strictly at the user's own risk. For further information see the APPA Web Site Agreement of Use.

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Protecting Intellectual Property Rights at Trade Shows

Trade Shows present great business opportunities but exhibiting at a show puts Intellectual Property Rights (“IPR”) at risk if not protected properly.

OF NOTE: This page addresses IPR protection at Trade Shows. To review general basics considerations on IPR, counterfeiting or grey market activity, see APPA’s website Considerations in Intellectual Property and Licensing and Counterfeiting and Gray Market Goods. This page is not intended as a substitute for qualified legal advice, but it is merely a guide to some basic considerations on how to protect your IPR at Trade Shows.

Back to Top What are IPR?

Generally there are four types of intellectual property protection.

1. Copyright: A copyright is granted to authors for individual works of authorship and other forms of creative expression. This includes literary, dramatic, artistic and other intellectual works both published and non-published. The copyright owner has exclusive rights to reproduce the work. Copyrights are registered with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

2. Patent: A patent is a grant of a property right for things and processes that are useful in the real world. The right is for 20 years after the date on which an application is applied for. During that period the inventor may exclude others from making, using or offering for sale, or selling the invention. The legal description of the invention is the patent’s claim. The US Patent Office will review the patent and determine whether the invention is one that is new, before accepting the patent.

3. Trademark: A trademark is a word, name, symbol or design or slogan which distinguishes the products of one company from another. A trademark must be distinctive and is linked to a specific product or company. A “service mark,’’ is similar to a trademark and generally refers to the source of a service and not a product. Trademark protection is created through the use of the mark, or by filing the mark with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

4. Trade Secret: Trade secret protection can protect confidential information from improper appropriation and is generally enforced by the states. To consider whether something is a trade secret, courts will look at how secret the information is, the efforts made to protect the secret, the value of the information, and the amount of money or effort involved in creating the secret. The higher the cost in developing the trade secret, the more likely it will be considered a trade secret. A trade secret program, including employee confidentiality requirements to ensure this secret is protected is additional evidence of the intent to keep the information a secret.

Back to Top Protecting your IPR BEFORE exhibiting at a Trade Show

1. Register your IPR

An idea is NOT protectable and a product not registered as an IPR has no or little remedy against potential infringers. Therefore, registering a product BEFORE exhibiting at a Trade Show is key to effective IPR protection.

Scope of the protection: registration in one country DOES NOT provide protection in the rest of the world.

General international rules: A company has two options when it comes to registering IPR abroad:
To ensure full IPR protection in another country, a company can apply to register any IPR in that country. For more information about the specific intellectual property laws and requirements of individual countries, visit the WIPO Guide to Intellectual Property Worldwide.
This option can become challenging especially when a company needs to register its IPR in several countries.
However, when a country is signatory to one of the numerous IPR multilateral treaties (e.g. WTO, Berne and Paris Conventions…) the complexity of overseas filing is largely reduced; a registration in the jurisdiction designated by the treaty will grant IPR protection in all the signatory countries of the treaty. This is the easiest option and the most commonly adopted. It provides IPR protection in several countries with only one registration.

NOTE:
Registration in China: although China is a party to some of these multilateral treaties, a company must register its IPR with the appropriate Chinese agencies and authorities for those rights to be enforceable in China. For information on how to protect your IPR in China see the APPA webpage: Protecting Your Intellectual Property Rights in China: Guidelines http://www.americanpetproducts.org/law/lawlibrary_article.asp?topic=55

Registration in Europe: although it is possible to register in countries individually or, for EU-wide trademark and design protection, you might consider the Community Trademark (CTM) and Registered Community Design (RCD). These provide a single right that protects your industrial design or trademark in the entire EU. Both national trademarks and the CTM can be registered through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as part of an international trademark registration system (www.USPTO.gov).

2. Prepare non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements for employees to sign prior to attendance at trade shows. (patent, trade secret protection)

3. Consider whether it is appropriate for individuals outside of the organization to sign confidentiality agreements prior to disclosure of intellectual property to them. (patent, trade secret protection)

4. Advise employees in advance not to talk about sensitive business in public places. Provide employees with concrete and precise examples of what can and cannot be disclosed. (patent, trade secret protection)

5. Work with marketing department to ensure that sensitive business information is not disclosed in written materials, whereby the risks of revealing sensitive business information may outweigh the benefits of obtaining new business. (patent, trade secret protection)

6. Mark products with patent numbers, where applicable, and with trademark and copyright symbols, where appropriate, to show ownership of intellectual property. (patent, trademark, copyright protection)

Back to Top Protecting IPR during a Trade Show:

General observations:

1. Avoid having non-authorized pictures taken

2. Police disclosure of intellectual property by employees at trade shows. (patent, trademark, copyright, trade secret protection)

3. In any back rooms meetings with vendors where proprietary new products are displayed, admit only select and important customers or potential customers and require anyone admitted to sign a non-disclosure agreement. (patent, trade secret protection)

Remedies against infringement at the show: little can be done at the show itself. Trade fair organizers cannot themselves determine which party is guilty of unauthorized copying. Unless there is a court decision that clearly stipulates that there is infringement, trade show organizers cannot act on behalf of (or against) exhibitors. However, the larger trade fair organizers have legal staff in place from which you can seek advice.

Note:
Specific rules in Europe and Germany: Trade Show organizers cannot close down a trade fair booth during the show. However, a lawyer can work with you to draft a Declaration of Forbearance and serve it on the alleged copier. Upon accepting it, the alleged copier agrees to voluntarily withdraw product(s) in question.
See http://www.buyusa.gov/europeanunion/ipr_trade_secrets.html and http://www.buyusa.gov/germany/en/ipr.html

Specific rules in China: to better protect IPR at trade shows in China new rules have been promulgated in 2006.
For instance, if a trade fair lasts three days or longer, trade fair organizers are obliged to establish a complaint center for IPR related issues. If the trade fair lasts only one or two days and the organizers do not provide a complaint center, the exhibiting company can check whether local enforcement authorities will be present at the trade fair. If not, they may at least provide a contact person who can be addressed in case of infringements.
For more details see: http://www.business-internet-china.com/business-china/chinese/protecting-your-ipr-at-china-trade-fairs-and-exhibitions.php

Back to Top Useful Links

APPA Advisor: Safeguarding Your Intellectual Property At Global Pet Expo by Shari L. Klevens: http://www.americanpetproducts.org/newsletter/january2007/legal_briefs.html

Protecting your IPR at European Trade Shows: http://www.buyusa.gov/europeanunion/ipr_trade_secrets.html

Protect Your Intellectual Property Rights at German Trade Shows: http://www.buyusa.gov/germany/en/ipr.html

Protecting Your IPR at China Trade Fairs and Exhibitions: http://www.business-internet-china.com/business-china/chinese/protecting-your-ipr-at-china-trade-fairs-and-exhibitions.php