Faculty & Leadership Blog / Innovative Curriculum

Student take-aways from a talk with head of IP litigation at Burns & Levinson

Howard Susser, Chair of IP Litigation at Burns & Levinson LLP, visited our law class for MBAs. Tales of clients like Sportvision (best known for the Virtual Yellow 1st&10 line on televised football and other TV graphics) memorably illustrated themes for entrepreneurs. Below are highlights of take-aways from us (as a class) based on written student reflections.

First, some broad themes from our previous class featuring two entrepreneurs were reinforced. Specifically, on law as a lens of strategy and tool to make ambitions come true:

  1. Law can be a forward-looking lens and proactive tool.
  2. Competitive advantage can be based on law (like IP).
  3. Entrepreneurs often start with law – and, critically, related to the topic-of-the-day: it can enable excluding others from using your invention, creative expression, or marks that you use to identify your product or service.

Interestingly, this week’s student take-aways tended to involve more granular details – maybe because we took a deeper dive into one topic.

On patents:

  •  “Claims of a patent is where it starts and ends … always ask to see the claims because there are a lot of gray areas … be wise in your choosing whether to use patents and trade secrets.”
  • “I thought a very interesting part is you can submit a document that is not an actual patent, and have it help as a support document if others attempt to infringe.”
  • “’Prior Art’ and the implications associated with it is what caught my attention. This term simply leaves the door open for many arguments and anyone could become subject to unintended infringement.”
  • “A ‘creation of nature’ is ineligible for a patent [even if you discover it].”
  • “The art of patent submission strategy is to balance [being specific and general] – go straight to the ‘claims’ section when defending/enacting patent disputes.”

On trademarks:

  • “When growing a business or being competitive in the market the process of searching and providing clearance for trademarks is very important…”
  • “The Pignons test: identify the relationship between trademarks, are they within the same industry? Lebron James lost his ability to trademark ‘Taco Tuesday’ because there is a company within the same entertainment space that already owns ‘Techno Taco Tuesday’”
  •  “The way products or companies display their ‘trade dress’ is important as confusion to consumers can be actionable.”
  • “Even when there is not infringement, there may be trademark dilution.”

And finally:

  • “As a successful and seasoned attorney, Howard was able to convey with conviction and stories an emphasis on the point that while there are certainly cases to be made in the arena of IP law, as new entrepreneurs we should be smart and, hopefully in turn, successful by acknowledging the serious ramifications of a misstep in this area and instead proactively think through our legal strategy before we enter the market to avoid the hefty time, costs, and disruption to business that a litigation could bring.”