BU prof uses bicycle to show how intellectual property protections overlap during UHLC talk

Wendy Gordon

March 8, 2018 — One of the nation's leading authorities on intellectual property law explained the intersection of the three types of legal protections and how patent law seems to dominate, during a talk Wednesday at the University of Houston Law Center.

Wendy J. Gordon, the William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law, spoke on the topic, "The Liberty to Copy Unpatented Inventions."

She explained that patent law primarily concerns utilitarian matters; copyright law, creative expression; and trademark law, symbols and shapes to show the origin or to identify an object. "Some things are all three," she said.

As an example, she used the bicycle.

"The price of a bicycle today is high," she said, "but it would be unimaginably high if you had to pay a fee for every invention on it," such as the wheels, gears, tires, handlebars and other components.

While the shape of the handlebars or the design of the seat might be considered creative and protected by copyright law as artful expression if hung on a wall, as part of a bicycle, they are utilitarian and the law of patents, which expire in 15-20 years (depending on the type of patent), should determine whether there is protection, she explained. "We should not give easy trademark rights or copyright on these types of things."

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