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The intellectual property minefield

November 6th, 2015 / By: / My Take

In the advanced textiles world, new technologies and products are practically an everyday occurrence. We hear about “breakthrough” research in every segment from thermal control, to e-textiles, to biomedical materials and many others. When one considers the difficulty—never mind the expense—of protecting intellectual property, it’s kind of amazing there is so much that’s new in this business.

You could chalk it up to research being done by big corporations that have the big budgets to match, but you would be only partially right. In fact, many significant developments have come out of small startups founded by entrepreneur-scientists who have a great idea and the passion to pursue it. These companies may not have the budget to engage professional legal help from beginning to end. Nevertheless, there are significant legal questions that are certain to arise and that must be addressed.

I’d compare it to a minefield. That may sound harsh, but is it? In a minefield (as I understand it—I’ve never actually walked through one) there are lots of places one can walk to get to where you want to go. The trouble is, you don’t know where the explosives are buried, and we all know what happens if you take one wrong step. In this area, guesswork is not only dangerous; it could be fatal to the whole enterprise. You need some tools to find the explosives so you can get safely to where you want to go.

If you’ve already patented intellectual property, you have acquired expertise that gives you some valuable tools. Or maybe you were “sweating it out” last time and you know you don’t want to have to take that route again. If you’re brand new at this, you may be overwhelmed by the possibilities (which include potential “buried mines”) and once in that minefield find yourself unable to take the next step.

Ok, enough of the metaphor. Better to ask the experts, which we have done. Our feature, “Connecting the threads: Tips for obtaining strong patent protection in textiles” by Mark Sweet and Mareesa Frederick is a great starting point for maneuvering your way in the world of patents and intellectual property rights. Sweet and Frederick, attorneys with Washington DC-based Finnegan LLP, do this for a living and have written a clear, straightforward and easily digestible article on this extremely complex subject. I hope that it will point you—and your next invention—in the right direction.