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Sacramento Intellectual Property Law Blog

Trade secret misappropriation claims in California

In a general sense, trade secret misappropriation is the improper use or disclosure of information that a company has dedicated a significant amount of time and resources into developing and protecting. California is one of 47 states to have adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, but even so, the way in which California courts approach misappropriation claims differs than how other states which have adopted the same laws would.

Under California's codified version of the UTSA, § 3426.1, the summary of which can be found on FindLaw, "misappropriation" occurs when a person acquires the trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to believe that improper means were used to acquire the trade secret. Misappropriation also occurs when a person discloses or uses the trade secret of another without consent, either implied or express, when a person uses improper means to acquire the trade secret of another, or when a person uses or accepts a trade secret that he or she knows has been acquired via improper means. Improper means can mean misrepresentation, bribery, theft, inducement of a breach of duty to maintain secrecy, breach of duty to maintain confidentiality or espionage.  

How can I protect my intellectual property?

As a business owner in California, you probably know how valuable intellectual property truly is. That’s why it’s vital to take the proper steps to prevent your lucrative ideas from falling into the hands of your competitors. Inc. offers the following tips in this case, which helps business owners safeguard their most valuable ideas.

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What are the four factors of fair use?

in public their unpublished or published works in a fixed medium. However, while you have the right to limit the use of your creative work under copyright law, there are certain situations in which someone can use portions of your work without your permission according to the principle of fair use. 

According to FindLaw, courts make fair use decisions on a case-by-case basis because it is a gray area of the law. If you bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement, the court will render a decision on the basis of four factors to determine whether or not the use of the work was fair.

Apple sued for misappropriation of trade secrets

California is home to many technology companies and residents throughout the state use the products created by these companies in their everyday lives. The origin of the technology in cell phones and other devices can be complex and sometimes the source of a legal battle. Such is the case today in a dispute between Qualcomm and Apple.

According to a report by Ars Technica, these two companies have been at odds with each other for a while. Their relationship goes back several years. In 2011, Qualcomm supplied chips to Apple that were used to make iPhones. By 2016, however, Apple began using chips supplied by Intel instead of those supplied by Qualcomm. The reason given for the switch was the supposed lower cost of the Intel parts compared to the Qualcomm parts. The most current versions of iPhones feature Intel chips.

Derivative works and infringement

Movies based on novels, paintings based on photographs, even poems that consist entirely of direct transcriptions of newspaper editions: there are many examples of artistic endeavors that could be considered derivative works. Classifying them as such could open them up for arguments concerning copyright infringement. California tech companies should also be aware that many of these rules may also apply to software projects. 

One could argue that there are always influences at play, even when someone creates an original work. Influence is, therefore, not the issue when it comes to establishing a piece's derivative nature. To be subject to copyright infringement laws, a piece would usually have to be completely dependent on its predecessor. 

Understanding trade secrets

For many California businesses, the need to protect a suite of intellectual property is an everyday reality. While most people think about things like patents, copyrights and trademarks or service marks when they consider what might be intellectual property, there is actually another type of IP to consider: trade secrets.

As explained by the World Intellectual Property Organization, trade secrets are less clearly defined than the other forms of intellectual properties. They are also not subject to any particular time limit or formal registration process, but they are nonetheless very important and the leaking of these secrets may expose companies to serious financial or brand damage.

Patent basics

With California being a hotbed of innovation, it is not unusual for an individual or a business to consider filing for a patent. However, before rushing in to do this, it is important that people full understand what a patent can and cannot do and also that they approach the patent filing process in an appropriate and timely fashion. 

As explained by the Houston Chronicle, there can be both advantages and disadvantages to filing for or securing a patent. Many people think that by having a patent, they have a clear path to market domination and fruitful profits, but it is not quite that simple. While a patent can prevent someone from manufacturing or selling an identical item, there is a limit on the length of time for which that ban is in place.

Tire company wins trademark suit against bar

Companies in California know how important their trademarked names can be. In the modern world fueled by consumer preference and social media, brand identity can be one of the biggest assets a business has. It is for this reason that entities so heavily pursue intellection property protections. One recent case would at first glance appear to not have posed a problem but upon further investigation, the potential conflict was revealed.

As reported by the Sacramento Business Journal, Firestone is a long-time name brand of tires. The company who owns the trademark is Bridgestone Corporation, based in Tennessee. In Sacramento, Firestone has also been known as a popular bar and pub. Tires and bars do not necessarily seem to be in a similar marketplace so some might wonder why Bridgestone Corporation pursued trademark infringement action against the bar.

How do I perform a trademark search?

Many California companies routinely develop new offerings and want to ensure they can properly protect their assets related to these offerings. If you have developed a new product or service and want to trademark a name to go along with that, you will make an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. However, prior to submitting such an application, it is recommended that you conduct a thorough search of existing trademarks. This may help you avoid requesting a trademark that is already granted to someone else or otherwise having your application rejected.

Such a search is conducted through the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Search System, or TESS. When embarking on this type of search, you should not only search for the one name that you have identified as your preferred name but others as well. One reason for including other names is so you can research alternatives if your first choice is not available. Another reason is so you learn about any other existing trademarks that may be similar to yours so you can ideally avoid potential conflicts if you learn that another trademark exists in your industry that is very close to the one you want.

Disney alleged of copyright infringement

Quite often, residents in California are likely to be most used to hearing about large corporations taking strong steps to protect their intellectual property. These giants may at times be seen as squashing down on smaller players, even individuals, in an effort to maintain their brand integrity and prevent unlawful infringements of the uses of their original works. Interestingly, today it is one of the big companies that is a defendant in such a lawsuit.

As explained by The Hollywood Reporter, mogul Disney and ABC, which is owned by Disney, have been named in a lawsuit that accuses them of copyright infringement. At the heart of the matter are clips used by Disney in the making of a documentary about the late entertainer, Michael Jackson. The film includes snips from the singer's music videos and a concert film.

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