Probably my favorite thing about being an intellectual property lawyer is that I’ve actually heard of most of the things I read about in cases. Off the top of my head, there are important, recent patent cases about Microsoft’s Word product and eBay’s Buy-It-Now feature. Famous trademark cases involve the Burger King franchise vs. a Burger King mom-and-pop shop on the East Coast, McDonald’s famous name, John Deere’s green tractors, and Pink Panther insulation. The Supreme Court once heard a copyright case involving a profane 2 Live Crew parody of a Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
So, I had to laugh this morning when I saw that a patent and trademark lawsuit was filed earlier this week over the Shake Weight®, which has been mercilessly parodied on Saturday Night Live, South Park, The Daily Show, and others. But, while the subject matter may be funny, these IP cases are big business. The Shake Weight® owner is trying to protect a $6M investment in its advertising, which is being poached upon by competitors.
Our IP laws permit innovators to insulate themselves from certain types of competition. Patents protect implementations of new ideas; design patents protect product configurations; trademarks protect brands and other indicators of source; and copyrights protect artistic expressions. These laws are important because they represent the only way for individuals and businesses to protect the investment into research and development, production, advertising, and other business-related costs. The primary purpose of the IP laws is to allow innovators to recoup their investment into bringing new products to market. Yes, even the Shake Weight®.