We are beginning our Dean search at Texas A&M. The next several years are going to be a very exciting period of time for our law school, and the position of Dean will be a great opportunity for the right person.
Perhaps I find this fascinating because I have heard from so many entrepreneurs about how the options presented to them by the current intellectual property legal system fail to meet their needs. Or because of my research on copyright fixation. Or because I’m fairly convinced I was a magpie in a prior life. But through the diligence of a research assistant (thanks, Benton Patterson), I recently came across i-DEPOT, and I find it very interesting.
i-DEPOT is a sort of safe deposit box for ideas, offered in Benelux through the Benelux Office of Intellectual Property (BOIP). The website is very careful to say, repeatedly, that i-DEPOT does not convey any IP rights. Rather, it claims that i-DEPOT is a “legal means of proof that issues a date stamp,” providing that a particular individual is “the rightful owner of a particular creation at a specific date.” It does not offer legal protection at all, except in so far as it serves as a source of evidence. After a creator or inventor submits something to i-DEPOT, the individual receives a certificate with an assigned number. (Here I am tempted to analogize to the Universitatis Commitiatum E Pluribus Unum, but that might be unfair.)
The website of the BOIP recommends that i-DEPOT be used while an idea is in the development stage, or if an individual wants to keep her idea secret. Maybe the patent costs are too great, or the life-cycle of the product is so short that a patent would be worthless. It can also be used for IP rights that do not require formal registration, such as copyright (does this serve as a sort of official validation of the “poor man’s copyright”?). Finally, the BOIP suggests that i-DEPOT enables creators and inventors to feel more secure in negotiations with potential business partners by including the i-DEPOT number in a confidentiality agreement.
The BOIP frames this as a good first step in the innovation process. I’m interested to hear from others on this. What are your thoughts? Does anyone know about anything similar in other countries? Or about how widely used this is in Benelux?
The International Trademark Association (INTA) is looking for one professor to be chosen as a Table Topic moderator for the 2014 Annual Meeting to be held in Hong Kong next May. (For those who aren’t aware, the INTA Annual Meeting is a conference of about 9,500 trademark professionals from more than 140 countries. It is a good opportunity to stay up to date on the latest issues in trademark law, talk with key stakeholders, connect with colleagues from around the world, and get a lot of CLE credit.)
While INTA represents brand owners and has historically spoken from that perspective, INTA has made concrete and serious efforts over the last several years to broaden its base and include the voices of academics in its programming, particularly during the Annual Meeting. (Frankly, that is what caused me to join the Academic Committee, to work toward the realization of that inclusive voice.) The Annual Meeting now features an entire day of academic programming, including a Professor Panel, where academic thought leaders present their perspectives on issues such as trademark boundaries, functionality, and overlapping doctrines, and a Scholarship Symposium, where papers are workshopped by both academics and practitioners. The Professor Panel has become one of the most popular panels at the Annual Meeting.
INTA has also expressed interest in reaching out to professors who might be interested in leading Table Topic discussions in a particular area. Table Topics are two-hour discussions limited to ten participants on a wide variety of topics related to trademarks. Participants at the Annual Meetings register (and pay) in advance for a seat at the table to discuss, and the seats typically fill up quickly, so it can be a good opportunity to generate discussion if professors happen to be working on scholarship ideas that might benefit from input from diverse perspectives, particularly from an international audience. I have personally found it helpful for my own scholarship—it’s not always easy to find a (captive and) interested audience to discuss an issue for two hours straight.
A sample of topics from the 2013 Annual Meeting can be found here. If you would like to be considered, please send a short paragraph describing the general topic to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, by Tuesday, October 15.
The downside: INTA does not cover travel expenses.
“What is art?” is most often an academic question, debated best either late at night over a glass of wine, or at scholarly conferences. In the west Texas town of Marfa, however, it has a very practical impact.
Public art is an integral part of Marfa. NPR has called Marfa “nothing less than an arts world station of the cross” and a “blue chip arts destination.” Marfa’s place as an art destination can be traced back to the 1970s, when minimalist artist Donald Judd grew tired of the small, confining gallery spaces of New York City and bought 16 decaying buildings, a decommissioned army base, and three ranches near Marfa. He moved there, and filled it with art. Since then, many artists have come to the region and set up shop in and around the town. (Sculptor Campbell Bosworth said, “You just come out here and you feel like, I want to make something; I want to do something!”) Many works are integrated into the unique west Texas landscape. Imbued in the area is a sense of independence and alternative living. The bookstore, the pizza shop, and the coffee shop are all independently owned. One of the best known installations is “Prada Marfa”, which is a replica of a Prada boutique created by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, replete with luxury shoes and handbags set a few miles outside of town. Perhaps the structure is a commentary on the prevalence of luxury brands or an exercise in context; whatever it is, however, one cannot escape the irony of a fake Prada store in the middle of the desolate landscape.
Recently, Playboy Enterprises built (or “commissioned,” depending on your perspective) what it claims is also an art installation near the entrance to the town –a 40 foot Playboy bunny on a pole along with a black spray-painted Chevy, called “Playboy Marfa.” Playboy worked in conjunction with artist Richard Phillips to produce the piece. Residents of the town have been upset by what they see as a corporate advertisement and an unwelcome intrusion into the landscape.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, if the structure is art, it can stay–but if it is a roadside advertisement, it has to go. Playboy does not have a permit for a roadside advertisement, and the location of the sign doesn’t qualify for a permit. TxDoT regulations define an “Outdoor advertising sign” as “an outdoor sign, display, light, device, figure, painting, message, plaque, placard, poster, billboard, logo or symbol, or other thing which is designed, intended, or used to advertise or inform, if any part of the advertising or information contents is visible from the main-traveled way of a regulated highway.”
The issue is, thus, whether Playboy Marfa is “designed, intended, or used to advertise or inform.” Art can inform, and perhaps art can advertise, but to the extent it does so within sight of a regulated highway, the Texas Department of Transportation can have it removed. (This kind of makes me want to go spray-paint “MADISONIAN.NET” on Cadillac Ranch. Just a little.)
Over the summer, the Texas Department of Transportation decided that Playboy Marfa was an Outdoor Advertisement, and ordered the landowner to remove it within 45 days, a period of time that has recently expired. Playboy refused to remove the piece and issued its own statement, stating that the company does not believe that “the art installation by Richard Phillips violates any laws, rules, or regulations.” The piece is still up, and the parties are reportedly in negotiations.
After being criticized for cultural insensitivity to American Indians, clothing and accessories giant Paul Frank Industries has found a way to support the Native American community. Last September, Paul Frank hosted a “Dreamcatchin’ Party” and “pow wow” for Fashion Night Out. The event featured its famous monkey mascot in a feather headdress, as well as guests wearing war paint and tomahawks, and drinks with names like “Rain Dance Refresher” and “Neon TeePee.” (The invitation and an associated story can be seen on Jezebel here.) The event was soundly criticized in social media by Native American groups, which believed that the cultural appropriation was insensitive, inappropriate, and racist.
Paul Frank Industries reached out to individual critics and decided to take action to showcase Native designs, but “to do it right.” The company selected four Native American designers from various tribes who had unique artistic styles to produce a line of products ranging from eyewear and jewelry to tote bags and t-shirts. (An interview with Elie Dekel, president of Saban Brands, the parent company of Paul Frank, can be found on NPR here.) The line of clothing and accessories will be released this week. The company wanted to release the line this week in particular because it is the time of the Indian Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is one of the largest gatherings of Native American artists in the country. Dekel stated that “working with the [Native American] community in an endemic and sincere and authentic fashion has been an incredibly refreshing experience… and one that we hope will be looked at by others in the fashion design and licensing industries as a template.”
(In full disclosure, I consulted with the estate of Crazy Horse for several years on intellectual property issues and worked with them to approach their concerns outside of the courtroom by seeking extra-legal solutions such as these to some of their concerns.)