Archive for category Trade Secrets
Like many emerging technology fields, the commercial spaceflight industry has a long close relationship with their patent attorneys. Patents are an excellent way for companies to maintain the hard-won competitive edge the skull sweat of their R&D group has created. Even before man made it to space, patents and patent applications have been filed on a variety of space-related technologies including: rocket steering systems (filed 1952!), escape tower rockets (filed 1959 on behalf of NASA), and sea-based recovery of space launch vehicles (filed 2009 by Blue Origin). Intellectual property rights protect new technologies and provide a potential avenue for royalty profits through licensing. What is a license, you ask, and how can it boost the company bottom line? Read the rest of this entry »
Like many industries where there are a significant number of new entrants, many emerging aerospace companies seem to approach intellectual property in a very focused manner that just skims the surface of available protections. This kind of approach is seen a lot in software-related industries where the magic behind a company’s product is computer code that the end user cannot access. While these sorts of products lend themselves to the gossamer protections of trade secret law, patent and copyright law also provide additional product protections and add value. Many once-young software and internet-related companies such as Google have come to recognize the value of patent protection for their product offerings. Google’s patent portfolio has helped establish its market dominance in mobile computing and ward off attacks from other companies. Some up and coming technology companies, like Facebook, are currently experiencing the pain of a narrowly-focused intellectual property protection policy. They have found that defending their innovations in a Spartan fashion against legions of their competitor’s patents is not the best position to be in.
Adopting an intellectual property protection policy that is broad-based, relying on more than simple trade secret law, places both large and small companies on firm legal ground, adds value to the company from an outside investment point of view, and recognizes that different technological solutions call for different IP approaches. Read the rest of this entry »
Once, I tried to drop by Scaled Composites in Mojave, California. Why? Because Scaled is probably one of the coolest companies in the world. They built the first plane to circumnavigate the globe without landing. They created SpaceShipOne, the first private, manned e spacecraft. SpaceShipTwo is going to rock the world by providing low-cost, consistent suborbital space access. Scaled’s founder, Burt Rutan has the coolest chops ever (I’m pretty partial to mutton chops). In short, Scaled does a lot of really awesome R&D in Mojave and just to be in the same building as that stuff would have been awesome. Unfortunately, the best I could do was watch SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo do early morning flight testing because of the incredible security Scaled has. Between the key card locks, basically windowless buildings, “NO VISITORS” signs, and high fences, I was lucky to even see that!
So why all the fuss? Two words: trade secrets. Scaled does a great job protecting its research by taking “reasonable [steps] under the circumstances” to maintain secrecy, as required under trade secret law. A lot of you are doing amazing research too, but perhaps aren’t in the same financial or business position as Scaled and might be wondering “do I lose all hope of trade secret protection if I don’t have an 8 foot fence around my Mojave Desert-based facility?” Fear not!
The broader intellectual property community and a lot of companies seem to forget or neglect trade secrets. Maybe they find trade secrets unmarketable, maybe just plain un-sexy (sexiness of protection is not a recommended basis for an intellectual property policy!). But not you, dear reader! To summarize, we have learned that a trade secret is any information that a company takes reasonable steps to keep secret which provides that company with a competitive edge because the information is not generally known! We know that trade secrets apply to a wide swath of ideas and information. Some of the information trade secrets apply to are also potentially protectable by other forms of intellectual property protection, such as copyright of patent law. Other ideas and information are only covered by trade secret law, making a functioning trade secret protection policy an essential part of any emerging technology company’s business operations. We know what a trade secret is, but what does it protect exactly?
Patents, copyrights, and trademarks, oh my! The Big Three of intellectual property law always seem to get all the attention and headlines leaving poor, neglected trade secret law feeling like the neglected, unwanted step-child. Patents, copyrights, and trademarks all have nice, (perhaps overly) broad federal laws providing both criminal and civil protections, but little old trade secret law has to chug away on somewhat varied state law and a rarely used federal criminal statute, 18 USC §1832. Trade secrets may soon be given uniform, nation-wide protection, but for now a patchwork of state law underpins the tenuous but potentially very broad protections known as a trade secret.
Despite legal inconsistency from state to state and the ethereal scope of protection, well established companies in industries as diverse as food service, personal hygiene, medicine, and aerospace rely on trade secret law in an attempt to “protect the family jewels.” Multi-billion dollar companies, such as Coca-Cola and KFC, have kept their processes for making their most famous products secret for decades, significantly longer than a patent would have lasted related to the same processes and formulae (assuming a patent could have been initially secured at all). Aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and, more recently, SpaceX also have a long, somewhat troubled history with trade secrets. So what exactly is a trade secret and why do they matter?
In the coming weeks, IPinSpace, everyone’s favorite, intrepid, niche-among-niches blog about intellectual property and space will be rolling out a new recurring segment—the Space IP Roll Call, SIPROC for short (you can’t build any space cred without the ability to generate awkward acronyms!)! Each SIPROC post will focus on a specific piece of intellectual property owned by an aerospace company that is interesting to IPinSpace’s chief scribe, Andrew Rush, and/or to you, the reader! Feel free to send in suggestions regarding what trademarks, copyrighted material, patents or patent applications you think would be cool to hear about in SIPROC.
The intellectual property addressed in a SIPROC post can come from anywhere—NewSpace, OldSpace, BigSpace, LittleSpace, CommercialSpace, NASA, etc. For an idea of what the differences between all those crazy terms are, check out HobbySpace’s description! Read the rest of this entry »