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Kansas City Intellectual Property Blog

Can Your Family Recipes Be Patented?

Who would have thought that recipe for Aunt Martha’s spaghetti sauce could be copyrighted or patented and turned into a moneymaker?

That would be the case if former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer and culinary enthusiast Nathan Myhrvold has his way. To date, copyright law has not applied to most recipes because they are basically instructions for combining a list of ingredients in certain proportions.

Hovey Williams involvement in Global Entrepreneurship Week

An important day for the Kansas City area is almost here. On Monday, Nov. 12, a major weeklong conference begins — dedicated to supporting and celebrating innovative people who launch startup businesses — Global Entrepreneurship Week. As a regional law firm dedicated to protecting the intellectual property — inventions, brands, trade secrets, processes and creative works — of our entrepreneur and inventor clients, we at Hovey Williams LLP in Overland Park, Kansas, embrace this opportunity. 

With more than 170 events, the conference is free of charge and open to the public. You can register online and build your own itinerary at the event website, which also includes free materials relevant to entrepreneurial endeavors.

Hovey Williams attorneys to speak at entrepreneurship conference

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. That may be true in some situations, but if someone uses your idea, name or product without permission, it can threaten your livelihood. There are preventative measures for protecting intellectual property, and steps to take if someone uses what you have created without your authorization.

Crissa Crook and Blair Barbieri, attorneys with the Kansas City intellectual property law firm Hovey Williams, LLP, will lay out these strategies on Thursday, Nov. 15, in an educational session entitled “Cease and Desist? What To Do When Your Intellectual Property Rights Are Violated.”

Do employees own their ideas?

Starting a new company with a great new idea can be exciting, but there needs to be some clear boundaries if the founder is jumping from a job as an employee in the same field. While the idea may be a good one with lots of promise, many employees sign Confidentiality and Invention Assignment Agreements. This could mean that an idea created or developed while working for someone else is owned by that employer, even if the employee created the idea during off hours at home.

Some employers do allow employees to work on side projects without claiming ownership, but the aspiring entrepreneur needs to be careful about their current obligations.

President signs largest copyright law change in decades

President Trump was recently able to sign the Music Modernization Act (MMA), which is seen as the biggest update to copyright law in decades. It is also a rare bipartisan bill that received unanimous approval in the Senate and the House.

The MMA addresses a number of issues particularly in streaming, which has become a significant potential revenue stream for a growing number of musicians, owners of a song's copyrights and record labels. All three have found it difficult to receive payment from important online streaming services like Spotify, who has been the biggest culprit. Experts are hailing the bill as a long-overdue update.

“Stairway to Heaven” back in court

Led Zeppelin famously made rock music that was heavier, louder and more lucrative. The band did this while pillaging Norse mythology and J.R.R. Tolkien (among others) for its lyrics. Musically, it borrowed from a long line of musicians that included folk songwriters, fellow rock bands well as first generation bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. To be fair, band sometimes did cite a source for a songwriting credit.

However, the question of original province for “Stairway to Heaven” is going back to court. The guitar figure that opens this all-time classic song sounds similar to a minor instrumental song “Taurus,” which was recorded by the ‘60s-era San Francisco band Spirit and written by band guitarist Randy Wolfe, who is deceased. A federal court jury in Los Angeles ruled in 2016 that the band did not steal the famous riff.

Dating apps quarreling over the swipe

There is no love lost between the companies who created the dating apps Tinder and Bumble. The first and larger of the two, Tinder and its parent company Match have tried to buy Bumble twice and have been rebuffed. Bumble, for its part, was started by an early Tinder employee who dated a founder and CEO, but left after accusing him of sexual harassment in the workplace. The case was subsequently settled out of court.

Trading lawsuits

Small businesses playing music likely violate copyright laws

Think about how many times music is played in a restaurant, independently owned coffee shop, local clothing store or other small business. Chances are that it is personally purchased by an employee or streamed from an internet source like Spotify or Apple Music, which likely means that there is no commercial license for playing the music in public.

This means that musicians, composers and owners of the song’s copyright are losing out. According to Forbes, $2.65 billion globally is lost annually because of recorded music played in the background without proper licensing. Here in the U.S., the total is $888 million annually. Not surprisingly, 71 percent of small business owners believe incorrectly that they can use privately purchased music in a store or business without a commercial license. Those who wish to legally stream or play music in their hair salon or other business would need to sign up for a Business-to-Business service with the proper license.

Just call them Dunkin'

Dunkin' Donuts is a beloved treat or everyday fix for many. In efforts to keep up with the times, the 70-year-old company is moving forward by " from its name and plans to emphasize its coffee and healthier or at least less sugary edibles. While the company took pains to say it would still sell donuts, the loss of donuts in the name does provide some trademark food for thought.

Dollars to donuts?

Breweries engage in playful cease and desist orders

Intellectual property rights are established to create legal protection so companies do not steal products or ideas. However, there are a growing number of cases where companies are engaging in playful back and forth using parody. This seems to be particularly popular among small craft breweries.

In-N-Out vs. In-N-Stout


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