Intellectual Property, Advertising Injury Coverages, and Licensing
Permalink | At the risk of turning this into blog reader month, I thought today I would pass along this article on the use of intellectual property in growing a business that was passed along to me by blog reader Mike Kraft of Customer Standpoint, who specialize in the analysis of the customer experience. It may not be entirely on point for this blog, but for those of you who may come here looking for information on advertising injury coverages, which, as I have discussed before, can cover some intellectual property claims against insureds, it is a good overview of how any business, including insured companies, put intellectual property assets to use.
Moreover, you can see in the article the range of activities - beyond just inventing technology, which is the popular image of intellectual property development - that businesses engage in involving their intellectual property assets and, if you think about it, you can spot all the different possible points of liability exposure in those actions. Advertising injury coverage can insulate a company against liability on at least some of those fronts, and the question for lawyers and brokers who represent insureds who engage in these types of activities is how to structure an insurance program that protects against all the other liabilities as well.
OneBeacon and Media Professional Liability Coverage
Permalink | This is an interesting little article - really a press release from OneBeacon about a new product the company is marketing - about a suite of insurance products targeted at the needs of small to mid-size media companies. Among the product’s constituent parts is media professional liability coverage, which the article points out includes coverage for “defamation, invasion of privacy, copyright and trademark infringement, emotional distress, trespass, and misappropriation of likeness.”
There are a few things that are interesting about this. The first is that I have long thought - and have written, such as here - that coverage for copyright, defamation, invasion of privacy and similar exposures is worth buying for any company that may face such claims. Media companies, in particular and quite obviously, face this exposure every day. These cases are almost never, in my experience, easy to get rid of cheap if you are a defendant. Sometimes this is because liability is clear - for instance, there is so much similarity between the challenged publication and the publication written by the plaintiff that a finding of copyright infringement is almost certain - and the plaintiff, as a result, has little motivation to compromise the damages and has, instead, a motivation to exaggerate them. Sometimes it is because the plaintiff has a legitimate claim to recover attorney’s fees if it prevails, so there is a motivation to keep on going in the hope of recovering the attorney’s fees the plaintiff has already expended. I could bore you for an hour listing these types of variables that can make these types of cases hard to settle. But the point is that they often are, which makes them expensive to defend, even under the best of circumstances. Big companies obviously don’t have to worry that much about those costs, but smaller companies, who are the target market for this product, clearly do. And that is why this is a market that would be well served by this product.
The second thing I wanted to mention is the wonders of marketing. The media professional liability coverage included in this suite, at least as described in the article, is essentially the old standby advertising injury coverage that has long been sold as an accompaniment to general liability policies. This is a neat rejiggering of that product to target a particular niche market.
Coverage for Copyright Infringement and Why You Should Buy It
In a recent posting I discussed the value to insureds of purchasing an endorsement adding advertising injury coverage to their commercial liability policies when they acquire or renew them because it can grant coverage of at least defense costs in some intellectual property cases, at a minimum copyright infringement claims; this is discussed at http://www.bostonerisalaw.com/archives/cat-advertising-injury.html.
It is most valuable to smaller businesses who cannot carry the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars that it can take to litigate even the most reasonably sized copyright infringement dispute. Bruce MacEwan, on his blog Adam Smith, Esq, http://www.adamsmithesq.com/blog/, wrote a series of postings recently concerning copyright infringement claims being threatened against him by a major media company for information posted on his website. Of interest to me is one in which he describes being advised that
One motivation for doing this is the remark of an IP practitioner and friend who, unsolicited, volunteered the opinion that "There are entire in-house law departments devoted to sending out legally unjustified cease and desist letters." And the truly bad news is not that dismaying commentary on the paucity of ethics, but his additional observation that far more than half the time, threats work.http://www.bmacewen.com/blog/archives/2006/05/copyright_law_fair_use_an_1.html#more
We can presume that most of the times that this threat works it is because the recipient cannot afford to defend itself against a copyright infringement lawsuit, or at least the calculus is that the profits from the allegedly - but possibly not - infringing activity is less than the cost of defending against that claim. Being insured against such a claim, and knowing that at a minimum the insurer will provide a defense against the copyright infringement lawsuit that will be filed if the cease and desist letter is not complied with, changes the calculus immeasurably. Suddenly, the only real issue for the recipient is whether it is, in fact, infringing on someone else's copyright, not whether it is too expensive to litigate the question and find out.
Once again, insurance to the rescue. More importantly, once again, companies and their counsel simply should not overlook the value of paying a little more for add ons, such as advertising injury coverage, that are typically available.
Insuring and Litigating Design Disputes
What does design, and more particularly the rise of design in modern industrial China, have to do with ERISA and insurance? Little, something and nothing.
A little, because business liability policies often contain advertising injury coverage, which can provide coverage for copyright infringement claims in certain circumstances. You can read my very out of date article on advertising injury coverage - from 1992 - here: Download file. Of note for present purposes, reflecting my lawyerly obsession with footnotes, is footnote one, which details the causes of action covered under advertising injury coverage endorsements.
Something, because one of the areas in which I practice extensively is defending insureds against intellectual property lawsuits in cases where the advertising injury coverage is triggered and the insurer will cover the claim. It is worth noting that this coverage can lead to insurers at least paying for the defense of many types of intellectual property claims, not just copyright infringement actions. I have handled cases in which everything from patent infringement to trade dress infringement actions have been defended by insurers. This comes about because the lawsuits also include a claim for copyright infringement, and the copyright infringement claim triggers the advertising injury coverage, resulting in the insurer having an obligation to defend the insured against the lawsuit. In most jurisdictions an insurer, if it must provide a defense against one count in a lawsuit must also provide a defense against the other counts in the lawsuit (with variations and exceptions not relevant to this discussion, but which can be very important to the particular insured defendant in a particular case). As a result, the other claims made in a copyright infringement lawsuit, such as claims for patent infringement or trademark infringement that are often "bundled" in a lawsuit with a copyright infringement claim, also end up being defended by the insurer. See the following link, which includes an example of a "bundled" case of this nature in which I defended a party charged with patent infringement, trade dress infringement and copyright infringement: http://www.mccormackfirm.com/new.html.
And finally nothing, because the relationship has as much as anything to do with my personal and professional interest in design, and how you protect it. I cannot read an article on architecture, industrial or other design in any setting without immediately thinking about how ownership of it can be protected. There is a fascinating article in today's New York Times on the rise of, for lack of a better term, a commercial design economy in China, that highlights several designers and architects, and their recent work. The article highlights the interplay between traditional Chinese forms and materials, and the country's newest designs and designers. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/20/garden/20china.html?_r=1&oref=slogin. In reading it, I immediately jump to the questions of what parts of it can be protected, which owners/designers can limit the rights of others to replicate it, and how that can be done. Issues ranging from claiming trade dress protection in the products, to an architect's copyright in a building design come immediately into play. It fit with a case I am handling, in which the question of the extent of an architect's ownership of and copyright in his design of a building was at issue. You can find a one paragraph discussion about that case here: http://www.mccormackfirm.com/new.html.