Commemorating Five Years of the America Invents Act

On Wednesday, September 21, members of Congress and key congressional staff, USPTO leadership, and stakeholders from industry and the inventor community came together again to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the AIA on Capitol Hill.  What follows is a guest blog by Dana Robert Colarulli, Director of the Office of Governmental Affairs that appeared on the Director’s Forum Blog on the USPTO website. Enjoy!

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“We’ve come a long way in five years. The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA), signed in 2011 by President Obama, modernized the U.S. patent system and, as a result, helped strengthen America’s competitiveness in the global economy. Together with our stakeholders, the USPTO sought to implement the act consistent with the intent of Congress to increase certainty in our nation’s intellectual property (IP) landscape and enable the brightest ideas and most ambitious endeavors in the world to come to light.

I was there in 2011 and the years leading up to the President signing the AIA and have watched the agency embrace and implement the numerous provisions in the act. On Wednesday, September 21, members of Congress and key congressional staff, USPTO leadership, and stakeholders from industry and the inventor community came together again to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the AIA on Capitol Hill.

The event featured remarks from USPTO’s Director Lee, Representative Lamar Smith and Senator Patrick Leahy on the history of the AIA, the need for change, and the AIA’s impact on the IP system – even as we continue to evaluate these sweeping changes and look for ways to further improve our system. A panel discussion at the event focused on the impact the act has had on businesses and inventors of all sizes and what may be next in the way of improvements to the patent system.

The AIA implemented a number of significant changes to update and improve the U.S. patent system.  Upon signing the bill in 2011, the President described what the bill hoped to accomplish this way:

“It’s a bill that will put a dent in the huge stack of patent applications waiting for review. It will help startups and small business owners turn their ideas into products three times faster than they can today.  And it will improve patent quality and help give entrepreneurs the protection and the confidence they need to attract investment, to grow their businesses, and to hire more workers.”

The USPTO has delivered on that promise by reducing the patent application backlog by nearly 30 percent from its high in early 2009, speeding up examination including introducing a fast track option with discounts for small entities, and leveraging the increased financial stability and fee setting authority provided by the act to reinvest user fees into increasing quality under Director Lee’s Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative.

And just this week, the USPTO and the Economics & Statistics Administration at the Department of Commerce released an updated report on the impact of IP on the U.S. economy, reiterating in quantifiable terms the importance of a well-functioning IP system.

The increased attention and focus on our IP system in recent years is critical, and our job to look for ways to further improve did not end with the AIA. Again, the President stated in 2001:

“And we have always succeeded because we have been the most dynamic, innovative economy in the world. That has to be encouraged. That has to be continued.”

Inventors and innovators in the U.S. and around the world deserve a system that evolves and improves right along with the pace of technology – an important reminder as we celebrate the 5th anniversary of the AIA.”

Learn more about the impact AIA has had over the last five years in:

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Beware of Fake IRS Tax Bill Notices

The Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit partners are warning taxpayers and tax professionals of fake IRS tax bills related to the Affordable Care Act.

The IRS has received numerous reports of scammers sending a fraudulent version of a notice- labeled CP2000 – for tax year 2015. The issue has been reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for investigation.

This scam may arrive by email, as an attachment, or by mail. It has many signs of being a fake:

  • The CP2000 notices appear to be issued from an Austin, Texas, address;
  • The letter says the issue is related to the Affordable Care Act  and requests information regarding 2014 coverage;
  • The payment voucher lists the letter number as 105C;
  • Requests checks made out to I.R.S. and sent to the “Austin Processing Center” at a post office box.

IRS impersonation scams take many forms: threatening phone calls, phishing emails and demanding letters. Learn more at Reporting Phishing and Online Scams. The IRS does not initiate unsolicited email contact or contact by social media.

An authentic CP2000 notice is used when income reported from third-party sources such as an employer does not match the income reported on the tax return. Unlike the fake, it provides extensive instructions to taxpayers about what to do if they agree or disagree that additional tax is owed. A real notice requests that checks be made out to “United States Treasury.”

The IRS and its Security Summit partners – the state tax agencies and the private-sector tax industry – are conducting a campaign to raise awareness among taxpayer and tax professionals about increasing their security and becoming familiar with various tax-related scams. Learn more at Taxes. Security. Together. or Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself.

BATTLE OF THE BRANDS

BDockeryGuest Blog by Brittani Dockery

Imagine. You are walking through your local mall, and something catches your eye. There, perched pristinely in the front window, in all its Italian leather glory, is the perfect Louis Vuitton bag. You can already picture it on your arm, along with all the compliments you will get. That’s until you check the price tag. Yikes!

Instead you opt for the less expensive, near-identical, knock-off, which has “made in China” stitched so far down into the depths of the purse, that not even a trained “luxury purse connoisseur” would notice.

As you walk away, satisfied with the thought of your future purchase, you may not know of the intense legal battles, trademark, and copyright implications that come with “knock-off” brands.

Designers and artisans use copyrights and trademarks to help them protect their creations or brands. While these protections create substantial barriers for possible infringers, the law is not so black-and-white.

Trademark Law

What exactly does Trademark protect?

Trademarks offer the best and broadest protections for designers. The words “American Eagle Outfitters,” on top of a storefront is protected, as well as the inverted C’s on a Chanel handbag. The veil of the Trademark Act protects even the unique stitching on a pair of True Religion jeans.

Trademark protection extends to logos, symbols, brand names, packaging, design, and other optional elements of apparel and accessories. However, trademarks do not protect everything. Aesthetically functional pieces are ineligible for trademark protection. This was ruled on in the following case:

In Christian Louboutin v. Yves Saint Laurent, the court ruled that Louboutin owned trademark rights of its red outsoles, because it had acquired a secondary meaning. However, the court held that “despite finding secondary meaning, the appeals court pointed to Louboutin’s failure to show that the secondary meaning of its Red Sole Mark extended to uses in which the sole did not contrast with the upper part of a shoe (i.e., on monochromatic red shoes).” Therefore, Louboutin could trademark its distinctive color, and Yves Saint Laurent could continue to use red soles on monochromatic red shoes.

Copyright

What exactly does Copyright protect?

Say you have made a blouse, with a unique design related to your company’s brand. Copyright protects that. What about a necklace with a novel pendant you have created? Copyright also protects that.

Copyright protects all original patterns, designs, color arrangements, and unique elements used on clothing, jewelry, and accessories. However, copyright does not extend to the actual clothing itself. So, that blouse we mentioned earlier is not protected, but the design on it is.

Over the past few years, designers have lobbied for greater copyright protections. Many European countries are afforded broad protections, but the United States has not caught up yet. There are several bills proposed by Congress, which would extend to the clothing itself.

For more information, check out the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act.

What about that Knock-Off bag?

We talked about the tools that designers use to help protect their creations. So, how are companies still able to produce knock-off brands that so closely relate to the original? The Supreme Court in 2000, ruled that products or other merchandise that simply copy the distinctive look of a famous brand do not violate United States protection laws.

In order to succeed in a trademark claim, a designer must show that customers may be fooled into thinking that they themselves are buying the brand-name item.

There was huge outcry amongst designers about this case.

Edie Locke, the regional Los Angeles director of Fashion Group International stated that, “Music, books, toys, even pharmaceuticals are protected, why not fashion? Granted, designers have always been knocked off, but to have the higher court say ‘It’s OK guys to knock off’ is surprising and disturbing.”

Perhaps, Cynthia Vincent, who runs her own clothing line, said it best:

“Everything is generated so fast, and trends are so quick. I’m not even talking about the third and fourth tier of designers. These days Calvin Klein is inspired by Prada.”

So, that knock-off bag you are thinking of buying does not infringe on the designer…at least, not yet…