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© 2009-2021 Dana H. Shultz

How Can I Make Sure I Receive My Full Royalty?

Curled paper tape from a calculator

Intellectual property license agreements often include a provision by which the licensor is paid a royalty that is calculated as a percentage of the revenue received by the licensee from licensed products. Given that licensees have a financial incentive to reduce the amount of revenue that is reported*, the prudent licensor includes an audit provision in the license agreement.

The audit provision typically:

  • Specifies the frequency and nature of audits that may be conducted;
  • Provides that the licensee will pay any underpayment amount that is discovered plus interest; and
  • Obligates the licensor to pay for the audit unless the underpayment exceeds X% of the royalty that was due, in which case the licensee must reimburse the licensor for the cost of the audit.

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Recognizing the Right Royalty Rate

One of the challenges my clients often face is how to determine a royalty rate for licensing an invention or other intellectual property. I start by offering the following fundamental observation:

The licensor needs to know the licensee’s business model and profit margin, because the royalty must be less than the licensee’s profit.

An article in the September 2006 issues of les Nouvelles, a quarterly publication of the Licensing Executives Society International, agrees with and expands upon this observation. “Fair And Reasonable Royalty Rate Determination – When Is The 25% Rule Applicable?” was written by Ove Granstrand, Professor of Industrial Management and Economics at Chalmers University of Technology (Goteborg, Sweden). (more…)

Trade Secrets Receive Federal Protection

Photo of volumes of the United States Code, symbolizing DTSA protection of trade secretsThis post discusses the civil and criminal protections for trade secrets available since May 12, 2016 under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA).

Relevant definitions in the DTSA roughly follow – with numerous modest differences – those in the Uniform Trade Secrets Act , which has been adopted, with various modifications, by almost all states. (more…)

“Happy Birthday” May Be in the Public Domain, After All

Photo of lit candles on a cake that spell "Happy Birthday"You probably have sung Happy Birthday [to You]” countless times. This post is about a company that has been collecting royalties from that song and the possibility that those royalties soon may stop.

In 1893, sisters Mildred Jane Hill and Patty Smith Hill published a collection of children’s songs. One of the songs – with the tune that we now know for “Happy Birthday to You” – was “Good Morning to All”.

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.

While no one knows for sure who wrote the “Happy Birthday” lyrics, their first known publication was in 1912. (more…)

Patent Licensee: Have a Track Record if You Want to Succeed

Logo for Quora where Dana Shultz answered a question from a prospective patent licenseeThis post is adapted from my answer to a Quora question from a prospective patent licensee. Q. How do I propose a licensing agreement with a patent holder?

A. In my experience, the most important thing that a prospective patent licensee needs to bring to the table is a successful track record.

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Sometimes You *Shouldn’t* Assign All Rights

Screen display of HTML code

I have written, on several occasions, about the importance of assigning copyrights (and other intellectual property rights) when work is done by an independent contractor. (See, e.g., Independent Contractors: How to Assign Copyrights.) Sometimes, however – as suggested in a comment to What is a Derivative Work, and Why should I Care? – it is appropriate not to assign all rights.

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Don’t Steal Your Former Employer’s Customers (Unless You’re Confident…)

Photo of a man with a finger blicking his lips, symbolizing that an employer's customers may be a trade secretMany people know that, when one leaves a job in California, the former employer typically cannot stop the former employee from working for a competitor. However, some people mistakenly believe that the right to compete includes the right to steal the former employer’s customers!

According to Civil Code Section 3426.1(d), a trade secret is “information…that [d]erives independent economic value…from not being generally known to the public…and [i]s the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.” For many employers, a customer list is an important trade secret.

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Postal Service Stamp Infringes Copyright – Not Fair Use

Korean War Veterans Memorial - use of photo on postage stamp not fair use

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Several months ago, I wrote that the fair use” defense to copyright infringement often is poorly understood. The U.S. Postal Service illustrates this point. A recent court decision held that a postage stamp infringed the copyrights in certain sculptures and was not fair use thereof.

Frank Gaylord created, and registered the copyrights for, soldier sculptures in formation constituting part of the Korean War Veterans Memorial.Stamp with photo of Korean War Veterans memorial dtermined not fair use

John Alli took a photo of the Memorial. The Postal Service paid Alli $1,500 for the right to use that photo for a 37-cent stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War. Alli told the Postal Service that it would need permission from the owner of the copyright in the sculptures; the Postal Service did not seek such permission. (more…)

Do I really need a lawyer to review this contract?

I have wanted to write this post for several months, but until now I have held off because of concern that it would come across as a lawyer saying “buy my services”. Today, though, a conversation with a client drove home how important this topic is.

On several occasions, clients have asked me to dig them out of trouble that occurred because they had entered into agreements without the advice of legal counsel. Some examples:

Eminent Domain: The U.S. Giveth, the U.S. Taketh

Photo of a hand grabbing money, symbolizing the US government's eminent domain powersA fundamental tenet of patent law is that the owner of a patent can preclude others from using or manufacturing inventions that the patent covers. Because of eminent domain, however, that there is a major loophole regarding the U.S. government.

Section 1498(a) of Title 28 of the U.S. Code says, in part:

“Whenever an invention described in and covered by a patent of the United States is used or manufactured by or for the United States without license of the owner thereof or lawful right to use or manufacture the same, the owner’s remedy shall be action against the United States in the United States Court of Federal Claims for recovery of his reasonable and entire compensation for such use and manufacture.”

(Section 1498(b) provides similarly with respect to copyright infringement by the United States.) (more…)

Third-party Patent Infringement: Let the Licensee Beware

After months of effort, you have successfully negotiated a nonexclusive license under an important patent. The license agreement allows you to make, use, sell, offer for sale, and import products that are covered by the patent. Much to your horror, your arch-competitor starts making and selling competing products that use the licensed technology, pricing its products substantially below your planned price. When you inquire, the licensor says that the competitor does not have a license. What can you do to stop this “third-party” infringement of the patent?

You examine the license agreement but see nothing about third-party infringement of the licensed technology. Can you stop your competitor from using the technology? Can you force your licensor to stop the competitor? The short answer is “no”.

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Patent Licensing for Licensors: Know Your Industry

Photo of a stack of 100 Euro notes, symbolizing revenue from patent licensingOver the past few years, several of my clients who had obtained patents wanted to license their rights to third parties. Only one client achieved patent licensing success.

The reason: The successful client was intimately familiar with the industry where his technology had its greatest value. He had worked in that industry for many years. He knew highly-placed executives in the most important companies. He was familiar with the companies’ product development plans.

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