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Is Your Intellectual Property At Risk?

Intellectual property is the crown jewel of any business, no matter its size. That's why R&D departments exist and also why companies incur great expense to obtain patents. In fact, the race to innovate has heated up dramatically. But as Tom Aeppel noted in an October 25, 2004 The Wall Street Journal article entitled "Patent Dispute Embroils Industries," the growing drive to be first has also ushered in another phenomenon:

"The number of U.S. patents issued annually has more than tripled over the last two decades to 187,017 in 2003 as companies try to distinguish themselves among other global competitors with new products or processes.  But patents are also the source of growing litigation. There were 1,553 patent-infringement lawsuits filed in 1993 in U.S. federal court, compared to 2,814 last year."

In the past, many businesses relied on the coverage provided under the advertising injury portion of their comprehensive general liability insurance to protect them if they were accused of violating intellectual property. The parameters of advertising injury in these polices included coverage for the unintentional acts of misappropriating advertising ideas, or the infringing upon copyright, title or slogan that occurred during the course of advertising goods, products, or services. However, since most companies' activities go well beyond the scope of what could realistically be defined as advertising, the protection provided by commercial general liability is obviously too limited in this area to be of real value. Under the typical commercial general liability policy, infringement of intellectual property claims that resulted from activities other than advertising would not be covered. By the same token, intentional acts of infringement are also not covered.

The gap between what is and what is not covered in terms of intellectual property infringement under commercial general liability presented a serious problem as competition increased. That's why insurers developed a specialized type of coverage called Intellectual Property Insurance. This type of coverage has two forms. The most popular form is defense coverage. This is designed to underwrite both the cost of mounting a legal defense against an intellectual property infringement lawsuit and the cost of any settlements or judgments that result from it.

The second type of coverage is called enforcement or pursuit coverage. This policy is for the party that has been wronged so that it can pursue anyone that has infringed upon its intellectual property. This type of coverage is especially appealing to a company that has a valuable patent, but may not be positioned in terms of its capital to exploit that patent's potential as well as one of its larger competitors. Having this coverage safeguards the company's intellectual property rights while it acquires the capital it needs and enables it to go after a competitor who violates those rights.

Losing one's intellectual property can mean the death knell in the current global economy. As companies find themselves having to compete both domestically and in emerging markets abroad, it's clear that innovation is the only way to stay in front of the herd. If that's the case, then it stands to reason that Intellectual Property Insurance is one more necessity for doing business in the new economy.

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