The HBO television series Silicon Valley is now in its second season. I blogged about intellectual property issues in this series during its first season. The series is, of course, a work of fiction but its second season offers food for thought on patent issues and trademark issues. Early in the second season, our protagonist startup Pied Piper is casting about for some venture capital funding. An invitation arrives from (fictional) venture capital firm Branscomb Ventures, and our characters breathlessly share that “they want to sit down with all of us — engineers included”. One person asks “wait, doesn’t Branscomb have its own compression play?” but Pied Piper really needs the money and gives that fact no further thought.
At the meeting the Pied Piper people, prompted by admiring questions from the audience, quickly fill every white board with details of Pied Piper’s clever compression technology. Finally one of the Pied Piper people catches on that the purpose of the meeting was not at all for Branscomb Ventures to invest in Pied Piper, but instead for people at the meeting to learn as much as possible about how Pied Piper’s compression algorithm works.
Surely every intellectual property practitioner who was watching this episode of Silicon Valley shouted at the television, as I did, “file a patent application before you go to that meeting!” In a subsequent episode, a startup company called Endframe shows off its compression technology in the live streaming of a daredevil event sponsored by “Homicide energy drink”. It turns out that Endframe is Branscomb’s “compression play” and that Endframe’s people were among the audience during the previously mentioned meeting.
Had Pied Piper filed a patent application before going to the Branscomb Ventures meeting, its position with Endframe would be so much stronger. But no, even in the second season Pied Piper has apparently done nothing whatsoever to protect its intellectual property.
Which gets us to trademark clearance. The script writers for the episode where the Pied Piper people go from VC to VC, looking for money, had to give names to the (fictional) venture capital firms. Here are some of the names:
- Branscomb Ventures
- Stern Taylor Capital Fund
- Raviga Capital
- Ross Loma Capital
- Medoa Partners
- Thornston Graves Ventures
- Midland Oak
- Coleman Blair Partners
- Wood Opal Fund
It’s fun to think about the fact that the show’s producers had little choice but to do trademark clearance on all of these names. They would want very much to avoid getting sued by a real-life VC firm with a confusingly similar name.