Leaders Rely On Imagination, Not Imitation

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That’s true … to a point. It certainly can be cute when a child models an adult’s behavior. Copying others is also an excellent learning tool. However, it’s something altogether different when a competitor passes off your ideas as their own. In fact, it can be criminal.

Having watched competing publications routinely mimic creations and use information originating from Security Sales & Integration, I know how frustrating it can be when you strive to be a leader only to see others reaping the benefits of your labor. For example, a recent presentation I gave based on SSI‘s proprietary research at the Central Station Alarm Association’s (CSAA) Annual Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, was subsequently used in print without proper attribution. So much for ethics!

In business – be it publishing, electronic security or any other line of work – there is a fine line between imitation and the theft of intellectual property. Fortunately, should that line be crossed, laws regarding patents, trademarks/servicemarks and copyrights provide violated parties judicial recourse.

I believe this is a good opportunity to review these terms, as defined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and encourage everyone in our industry to uphold the highest standards of professionalism and business ethics.

Patent – The grant of a property right to an inventor, issued by the USPTO. The term of a new patent is 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, in special cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed, subject to the payment of maintenance fees. U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories and U.S. possessions.

The right conferred by the patent grant is “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the U.S. or “importing” the invention into the U.S. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.

Trademark – A word, name, symbol or device that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others. Similarly, a servicemark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. The terms “trademark” and “mark” are commonly used to refer to both trademarks and servicemarks.

Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark. Trademarks that are used in interstate or foreign commerce may be registered with the USPTO.

Copyright – A form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, perform the copyrighted work publicly or display the copyrighted work publicly. Copyrights are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

Copyright law, in particular, has been put to the test in recent years as PCs and the Internet became ubiquitous. Lawmakers are still scrambling to catch up with the ramifications – such as rampant plagiarism – of this technology.

Although these laws help shield individuals and companies from harm, their most important function may be protecting the public from being misled. Besides being illegal, the abuse of intellectual property can create confusion in the marketplace and undermine an entire industry.

So, stick to developing your own ideas! When it’s necessary to borrow, give credit where credit is due; and, if in doubt, consult with an attorney.

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