What Every General Counsel Should Advise Their Client To Do To Protect Products at SEMA360

SEMA360 is scheduled to “open” November 2-6, and I am sure you are all in full preparation mode for this new format.  While we do not know how SEMA360 will compare to the live version, many of the same issues that you face going to a trade show apply.  In this Blog Post, we’re going over the advice every general counsel should offer to a client who wants to protect products from competitors at SEMA. 

Many manufacturers will display their products to the public for the first time at SEMA360.  Along with the public and potential buyers, your competitors will also be seeing what you’ve been working on.  You should not show off your innovative ideas without legally protecting them first.

Mark your territory.

Before showing your new products at SEMA360, protect them!   There are several different protections you can seek, including patent, trademark, and copyright rights.  While copying is the greatest form of flattery, it will not feel that way when one of your competitors grabs your idea and sells it to a retail buyer ahead of you.  

Depending on your new product offering, you can likely get patent, trademark, or copyright protections for the overall look and feel, along with its function and use.  You should absolutely talk with an attorney in advance of SEMA360 to find out whether a trademark, patent or copyright will give you the protection you need based on your unique circumstances.

Know your Competition.

It is important to know what your competitors are doing before you launch a new product line and brand.  It is unfortunate when you find out your competitor has beat you to a new product or trademark, but it is better to know than to launch and find yourself accused of infringement.  

Before adopting a new product, it is important to consult with IP counsel about the patents and patent applications that currently exist.  At a minimum, you will find out that your competitor has already developed the idea.  At best, you will be able to change your new product to avoid infringement.  By improving or perfecting the design with these patents in hand, you often can produce a better product and one that may be free from claims of infringement. 

Branding is key, but it is important to ensure that your brand is not already in use by others in the automotive aftermarket or by the OEM.   It is not good enough to say: “Hey, I am in wheels and he is in tires, so I can use this mark.”   Many view the automotive aftermarket as a single overlapping universe.  You need to make sure your new brand is unique across the Aftermarket if you want to avoid any trouble down the road.

Strategize.

You also need to have a plan in place to address anticompetitive conduct when it arises. Unfortunately, the copycats are out there and they’re not afraid to strike, even when you have legal protections in place.  It’s not enough to establish your rights with patents, trademarks, and/or copyrights—you also have to enforce the rights that you’ve established.

SEMA360 will be no different.  The Intellectual Property rules that govern the live SEMA show will govern SEMA360; please contact a lawyer to assert your rights at the Show.  

Partner.

Every manufacturer of automotive aftermarket products needs a legal partner to guide them through these matters—preferably one who not only speaks the languages of intellectual property protection and litigation, but also one who speaks the language of your industry.  At Aftermarket Law, we provide external general counsel for companies like yours.  We admire the passion and creativity that our clients bring to the automotive industry and aim to bring that same brand of passion and creativity to the legal side of your business.  If you’re interested in partnering with us as you prepare for SEMA this year, we’d love to hear from you.  Contact Aftermarket Law today and let’s get started.

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