We continue our series on how intellectual property can protect additive-manufacturing products and processes.
Protecting the Product’s Name
The product name, RAPIDFORK™, may be eligible for trademark protection. Trademarks can be used to protect words, symbols, colors and sounds in association with goods. The name RAPIDFORK™ is a name that the motorcycle racing team is using in association with a class of goods (i.e., motorcycle racing forks).
Trademark rights are acquired through proper trademark use and can last for an indefinite period of time, as long as the mark is used properly. See Trademark Proper Use, International Trademark Association. Trademarks must be used as adjectives and should not be used as verbs. Id. Trademarks should be used in a consistent manner and without alteration. Id. They should not be used in a possessive form. Id. Finally, a trademark should not be pluralized (when the trademark is a singular term or phrase) and should not be singularized (when the trademark is a plural term or phrase). Id.
Trademarks can be registered at the USPTO and with individual state governments. Trademark registration is not necessary to protect trademark rights, but registration can provide the trademark owner with many additional rights.
The Manufacturer Can Use IP to Protect its Improved Process, Improved Alloy or Both
The improved process and the improved alloy can be protected through utility patent protection, trade-secret protection or a combination of both. The improved 3D-printing process that was used to create the prototype could be eligible for either utility patent protection or trade-secret protection.
The key considerations in determining which type of protection is more appropriate will likely depend on whether the process cannot be practiced in secret and whether use of the process by another party can be detected. If both of these conditions are true, then utility patent protection would be the most appropriate choice. If either of these conditions is not true, then trade-secret protection might be appropriate.
The improved alloy represents a slightly different type of analysis. Generally, the composition of an alloy can be easily determined through standard metallurgical engineering testing procedures, which would make reverse engineering a key concern. As a result, the manufacturer would want to investigate patent protection.
However, there is a scenario in which trade-secret protection might be appropriate. If the new process produces a unique metallurgical structure within items that are produced through the process, then trade-secret protection might be feasible because reverse engineering might be too difficult to achieve.
More next time.