Corrections or additions?
Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on January 5, 2000. All rights reserved.
Survival Guide: for Web Entrepreneurs
Edison had to create a light bulb to get a patent.
entrepreneurs might simply try to patent the "light bulb
Information, as we all know, is a valuable commodity, but only as
valuable as it is protected. Enter the term intellectual property,
the proprietary, patented version of an idea, concept, or method.
In fact, many of today’s business are born on ideas alone. "When
you take an Internet start-up, that’s all they have," says
Woodbridge, senior partner of Woodbridge & Associates at 112 Nassau
Street (609-924-8864). "And investors want to be given some
In terms of the sheer number of patents registered each year, the
Route 1 corridor is second only to Silicon Valley. Earlier this year,
the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Princeton and Rutgers
research corridor — an area that covers roughly 50 miles between
Trenton and New Brunswick — ranked as the second most innovative
place in the nation, with roughly one patent to every 120 residents.
Silicon Valley has one patent for every 98 residents.
"The volume of intellectual property requests we have walking
in the door is triple that of what I saw three years ago," say
Woodbridge, who discusses patents, copyrights, non-disclosure
and how to protect your Internet site at the Association of Internet
Professionals meeting on Wednesday, January 12, at 6 p.m. at the
Corporation on Fisher Place. The meeting is free. Call 609-924-8864.
Internet start-ups are the latest in the parade of intellectual
clients at Woodbridge & Associates. "Ultimately what they are
doing is trying to hook investors," says Woodbridge. "Since
they don’t have much in the way of tangible assets, they do what they
can to protect their intellectual property so that their investors
Patenting a business model or method is still a relatively new
the patent office only recently accepted the idea of a "Business
Model" patent, one that allows an individual to protect his or
her business concept. "Historically the patent office has not
permitted patents on items like business plans and ways of doing
says Woodbridge, "but that has loosened up over the years."
It may be looser, but it is also more vague, particularly with the
rapid development of technology. The line between what is proprietary
intellectual property and what is information is not always clear.
In the case of copyright law, the government has said that information
alone does not constitute intellectual property; it must have a
element to it. In the Feist decision, the Supreme Court therefore
ruled that mailing lists and such are not worthy of copyright
even if it is born from "the sweat of one’s brow."
are only intended to protect the form of expression," says
"It’s not intended to protect things that don’t have a creative
content to it. Plain naked information doesn’t have a creative element
However, where technology is involved, the lines are blurred even
more. Take Amazon.com’s "one-click" patent, now the object
of a preliminary injunction against Barnes and Noble. "There
to be the beginning of a backlash against these patents," says
Woodbridge. "The theory is that it takes away people’s freedom
to expand on the World Wide Web."
Woodbridge, who likes to "to barge around the Internet and see
what’s going on," believes that the patentability of business
methods, like the patent Amazon holds, doesn’t violate any free market
principles. Just the opposite, he believes. "History has shown
that the patents are an incentive to people to try to improve life
and machines," he says. "Why would anybody bother to do
if they did something and someone could take it right away?"
A native of Princeton, Woodbridge has a BS in electrical engineering
from Princeton, Class of 1965, and earned his JD from George
University in 1971. He has been in practice in the area since the
1070s, specializing in computers, communications, and software end
of the business. His wife, Karen, is the associate director of state
community affairs at Princeton.
An individual or company that tries to get a patent
for intellectual property may find that it’s not easy, despite new
modifications in the law. It’s expensive, there are rigorous creative
requirements involved, and so many things have already been patented,
says Woodbridge. Only about 15 percent of the people who come into
his office wanting a patent are actually considered eligible. "You
can’t just protect an algorithm — it has to be in a specific
he says. "You can protect information, but you have to do it in
a clever way."
Woodbridge puts each of his intellectual property clients to the
for more than a year? If so, it’s not eligible for a patent, says
economically sensible to go through the patent process? "The
process can be expensive, so I ask them where they plan to go with
this," says Woodbridge. "There’s no sense in going through
the process if there’s no return on the investment. Even if the thing
is eminently patentable, if there’s no market for it do you really
want to spend thousands of dollars?"
along with two disinterested witnesses, says Woodbridge. Then find
a registered patent attorney (he recommends
who will decide if it nominally meets the standards of patentability.
A patent novelty search — a private search of patent records in
Washington — may reveal that the concept or invention is already
patented. "People take it for granted that just because they
seen something it doesn’t exist. But there’s an awful lot there,"
says Woodbridge. "There are about 5.6 million U.S. patents, and
15 to 20 million foreign patents, and probably 80 percent or more
of what’s patented in the U.S. patent office has never been
Although the Supreme Court currently holds that not all information
is patent-ready, that could change. "The federal government has
been considering legislation that might provide copyright protection
for databases, similar to what they presently have in Europe,"
says Woodbridge. "I’m personally not in favor of it, because I’m
not sure what is protectable in a mailing list. I don’t think the
public is especially well-served."
It may not serve the public well, but Woodbridge anticipates that,
as information becomes more of a commodity in the next decade, ideas
and concepts will be carved up into ever smaller propriety pieces.
"What’s going to happen is that the extent to which people are
trying to get protection is going to be focused on more and more
areas," he says, "because the bigger concepts will already
be in the public domain or already patented."
— Melinda Sherwood
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