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In Case You Hadn’t Heard…How to Teach Your Kids About Patent Infringement

by Keith Hock

A few weeks ago, my 6th grade son started wearing colorful bracelets made from small rubber bands “woven” together using Brunnian links.  I was reminded of the Silly Bandz craze from a few years ago when my children (I also have a 9th grade daughter) sported a dozen or more of the rubber band shapes on their arms.  Then I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a patent, trademark and trade dress dispute between the companies that make or sell the “looms” that are used to make the rubber band bracelets (some of the pleadings can be viewed on the “Graphics” tab of the WSJ link above).

Photo for KAH blog post

This was a perfect intersection of my professional and family life. Since my work as a forensic accountant often includes intellectual property cases, I took the opportunity to explain intellectual property and infringement to my kids.  This weekend, my son purchased one of the patented looms and with the help of a YouTube tutorial began to craft his own bracelets (typically in color combinations representing college sports teams).

At the end of the day, I’m not sure that my children care about the intellectual property issues involved in this latest fad.  In fact, I would guess that the litigation will last longer than the popularity of the bracelets.  In the meantime, the bracelets are cool, fun to make and easy gifts for friends and I was excited to be able to talk to my kids about what I do by relating it to something that they could understand, purchase and use to make something (even if they will probably quit wearing the bracelets in a few weeks or months).  Most of my cases involve more “industrial” applications like commercial skylights or mining equipment or medical furniture that are not typical “at home” items.  While probably wishful thinking on my part, I hope that I was able to teach my kids something about inventions, intellectual property and the relatively thin line between competition and infringement.

Have you ever worked on a case that provided you with an educational opportunity at home?  Please share your stories in the comment section below.

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