In many industries, trade shows are a way of life, largely because of the value and benefits that come along with attending. Among other things, a trade show is a great way for a company to raise awareness of itself, its products, and brand. Trade shows also allow for face-to-face interaction with respective and prospective clients, partners, and customers. But attending a trade show can also be a trouble spot. Careful reflection should be directed to anything that might result in a disclosure of anything proprietary.
Offshore Technology Conference (OTC)
When you live in Houston and work in the oil and gas industry, you know what it means when someone asks, “Are you going to 'OTC' this year?” A conference held annually in Houston, the OTC website states it is a venue “where energy professionals meet to exchange ideas and opinions to advance scientific and technical knowledge for offshore resources and environmental matters.” 2017 Chairman Joe Fowler adds, “Every year, OTC draws tens of thousands of people from around the globe to see offshore energy’s latest technologies...OTC’s main purpose is to spur innovation, and these companies are creating new standards of excellence for the industry.” Put another way: if you work in O&G, you go to OTC.
Trade Show Pitfalls and Your Rights
A patent attorney will (should) continually engage and counsel clients about ‘disclosure’, including as it pertains to inadvertent or intentional. An inadvertent disclosure, even to just one person, can derail the best of intentions and hopes when it comes to patent protection. And while the U.S. patent system provides a 12-month grace period, most of the rest of the world does not.
Unfortunately once a disclosure has occurred, there is no going back. So before you start showing off that latest product, or engage trade show attendees in discussion of new technology, be sure you have a firm understanding as to what that means from a 'disclosure' standpoint. Prior to showing off the latest and greatest Widget or Thingy at a trade show, consideration should be given as to whether a provisional patent application should be filed.
Another pitfall to consider is the agreements that come into play. An admission ticket is often a ‘license’ to be on the property associated with a trade shown (in the case of OTC, NRG Park), and is routinely subject to a vast array of terms and conditions - the ‘small print’. A sponsor or vendor will usually have its own agreement with the trade show. Very easy to overlook is that by attending or being a vendor, you may have given away certain rights, as a license or agreement may include express terms that upon a problem, the trade show has the right to provide a remedy. One facet where I have seen this come into play is photography. In most instances photography is prohibited at trade shows, but yet there will always be ‘that guy’ who does it. Or there will be a vendor who gives an “ok”, not realizing that the vendor remains bound to the vendor agreement.
Trade shows are great! If you are going to OTC this year, it will surely be fantastic like always, and someone from our Office might bump in to you. But keep in mind those hidden dangers that are lurking just under the surface. If you have concerns about an agreement for an upcoming trade show, or had a problem that occurred at a previous show, Rao DeBoer Osterrieder can help you understand your rights and responsibilities. Contact us for any questions you might have.
We look forward to speaking with you!
© 2017 John DeBoer
John DeBoer is a registered patent attorney, and admitted with the Texas State Bar. He is a Partner with Rao DeBoer Osterrieder, a law firm in Houston, Texas specializing in intellectual property law. Contact John via Email.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rao DeBoer Osterrieder, PLLC, or any of its clients. All rights reserved.