Google Obtains Design Patent For Its Website

For some time now, I have noticed how Google has obtained several design patents for its website and user interface. See below.

Google Homepage Design Patent
Google Homepage Design Patent

They also recently applied for and obtained a new design patent for the layout of search results. Click here to see it.

A design patent is not your typical patent, and it only secures the aesthetic ornamental aspects of the goods.

Nothing is stopping Google from trademarking its clean, minimalist web interface. In fact, I wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal a while back on how Apple used this very strategy to obtain a shape trademark for its iPod and iPhone.

My most recent search of Google’s nearly 100 live trademarks, however, shows they have yet to learn from Apple’s trademark strategy success.

UPDATE: Please see this newer post to learn about additional ways to secure a website’s design and functionality.

Louis Vuitton Wins a $32 Million Trademark Judgment

That’s a pretty big sum for a trademark infringement case, litigated in a federal court in Northern California. What is interesting is it wasn’t levied against some knock off artists directly. Instead, the charge was contributory infringement (kind of like aiding and abetting) against web site hosts that allowed fake L.V. hand bags to be sold via the Web. This ruling will potentially have a big impact in the world of online retail. The case bears some similarity to Napster, which dealt with copyrights and online music exchanges.  In the L.V. case, however, it will be much harder in the future for fake goods sellers and their web hosts to escape unnoticed. This is, in sum, a big victory for trademark owners.

The full business wire story is here.

Can you copyright a tweet?

With the rise of Twitter it was inevitable that intellectual property issues would surface regarding “tweets” (information snippets under 140 characters in length).

Some are concerned that copyright might stifle the ability to reproduce tweets for collaborative projects. Twitter itself states, “We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours.”

So the website tweetCC has decided to take action, and create a list of Tweetsters who have agreed to license their tweets under open terms, using the creative commons license.

Here is the result of my own search:


Law 2.0 – Harnessing the Web to gather legally relevant data

The Web has transformed how we gather, process and view information. Yet, the legal system has largely ignored the Web’s vast potential to settle legal issues. Just one possible way for the Web to improve the efficiency of legal determinations is through online surveys, which are cost efficient and quickly obtained.

Surveys are often used in intellectual property-related issues to empirically determine facts which are then interpreted to settle a question of law. For example, in trademark law, surveys are used to prove whether a competitor’s  trademark is likely to cause consumer confusion. If it is, then the plaintiff is provided some sort of legal relief. All to often, each side offers their own surveys developed by their own experts to advance their claims.

So here is a thought experiment proposal; why not use online surveys to gather facts that can then beused to decide legal outcomes?  Why not open up the survey questions to an online community to gather facts? I think doing this might make the system more efficient, speedy, and unbiased. It would also include interested public participants and show the public how the system works, and what their beliefs and survey responses mean from a legal standpoint. Including the public this way could enrich our legal system.

What are some of the problems that might arise from this system? An obvious one is that one side might try to influence responses. Technology might provide an answer through a secured response system. Another alternative is to limit the sampling to a closed user group. Better yet, a response similar to open platforms like Wikipedia might emerge. A completely open community of responders, who have some interest or stake in the legal question, would theoretically offer an accurate appraisal of the public’s view.

Another problem would arise in deciding who frames the questions. Whoever gets to define the scope of questions has a great amount of discretion.

In spite of these difficulties, which are likely surmountable, the question lingers: Why has our legal system failed to harness the Web for fact gathering? Is it falling too far behind the times? Is it too entrenched in its formal, text-based culture?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions to this question.