Kiwis are an inventive lot; from the bungy to the disposable syringe, if there’s a gap in the market, we fill it! Before your idea becomes public knowledge, it is important to keep it yours. The ongoing Waymo vs Uber case highlights the importance of businesses protecting their innovative thoughts and creations.
Waymo, Google’s self-driving car technology, filed a lawsuit against Uber in February over claims of patent infringement and stealing trade secrets. Waymo accused a former employee Anthony Levandowski of illegally downloading thousands of files while working at Google. Those files are then believed to be used as a blue print for his self-driving truck company Otto, which is now owned by Uber – Levandowskis’s latest employers.
This is an interesting case as the accusation lies with the third party. Uber is accused of designing their self-drive cars from intellectual property belonging to Waymo that was illegally acquired when Levandowski departed. There is not a personal lawsuit against Levandowski; Uber’s request for arbitration based on a violation of Levandowski’s employee agreement was denied for this reason.
New Zealand’s business owners can protect their ideas and innovations by entering into registered or non-registered Intellectual Property.
You can patent a product or system for up to 20 years as long as the idea is innovative. A patent is an exclusive right to make, sell or use an invention in the country in which the patent is registered. You can register for patenting in New Zealand here, but we recommend that you talk with one of our lawyers before you proceed.
The exclusive rights to your invention is then covered and you can take legal action should anyone infringe your patent.
Your trade mark can be your company logo, phrase or symbol. It is what is recognised in favour of the competitors and can be protected under the Trade Marks Act 2002. Once you register your trade mark in New Zealand, you will gain the exclusive rights to use it in relation to the goods/services that you offer.
Intellectual Property Created by Employees
In New Zealand, it is generally considered that the intellectual property belongs to the first author or owner. There are exceptions under New Zealand law in employment. Employers may wish to draw up an Intellectual Property Agreement in which the employee agrees to give ownership of any work during employment to the employer. This can include logos, written work or patents, on the assumption that it was created under a paid contract.
Trade Secrets and Confidentiality Agreements
Information that has value to a business and provides an advantage over its competitors such as the Colonels 11 secrets herbs and spices, can be protected with a confidentiality agreement. Trade secrets and secrecy agreements are not registered with a national agency, but can be drawn up in a contract. Before signing any contract, contact your lawyer to discuss the clauses and your rights.
If you would like to patent a product or protect a business idea, speak with an MBC Lawyer.