Tougher Policies: Intellectual Property Protection at the SEMA Show

SEMA News—April 2014

CHRIS KERSTING

Tougher Policies: Intellectual Property Protection at the SEMA Show

Chris Kersting, SEMA President and CEO Do you see increasing examples of trademark rip-offs and illegal knock-off products showing up in online marketing and catalogs? SEMA is hearing more often from members experiencing intellectual property (IP) infringement problems. Protecting IP is something that many industries have struggled with for some time, and our industry is clearly no exception.

For a number of years now, SEMA has maintained policies and procedures to prevent the display of products, trademarks and trade dress that violate the IP rights of other SEMA exhibitors. Our goal has always been to ensure proper protection of the IP of industry members.

Recently, we’ve begun seeing broader evidence of counterfeiting (which is when known trademarks and/or packaging is deceptively used to market a product) and illegal knock-offs (which involves replication of products protected by patents). Adding to the concern, many of these illegally branded look-alike products are often of substantially lesser quality, with implications for customer satisfaction and safety.

In response to these developments, SEMA will soon be implementing more proactive policies and procedures to help protect industry IP at both the SEMA and PRI Shows.

In the past, our policy has been based on action taken primarily during Show week. We maintain procedures to assist exhibitors in the enforcement of court or federal agency determinations of ownership rights. In those cases where the claimant did not have court-supported protection, we worked to broker the voluntary removal of products at the Show, with substantial potential consequences for those refusing.

Moving forward, our approach will change. Certainly, we will continue to assist exhibitors in enforcing court orders and agency rulings in order to prevent counterfeiters from participating in the Show. That does not change. But we are adding policies to allow us to be more proactive and to take action in advance of the Show itself.

If we are provided with information in advance of the Show demonstrating that an industry company is engaging in obvious counterfeiting, illegal knock-offs or deceptive marketing practices, we will preemptively block Show registration and participation at both the SEMA and PRI Shows. SEMA is taking those steps because—aside from the IP violation—the activity is detrimental to Show exhibitors and disruptive to the Show itself.

Unfortunately, many cases are not clear cut. There are often cases in which the evidence is debatable or subject to interpretation. In those situations, SEMA will evaluate the circumstances and take steps as appropriate. In order to help SEMA help you to protect your IP at our shows and events, please take time to review our newly revised Intellectual Property Rights Policy. Learn more.

If you have reason to believe that another company is violating your IP rights, there are several steps you can take to document the violation. Registering your IP is the best means of establishing and proving ownership. Failing to do so could jeopardize the enforceability of your rights, so we encourage members to register products with the appropriate government agency, such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

If you suspect a violation, you may wish to seek legal counsel to investigate your claim. When you make your claim, it should be supported with relevant evidence such as catalogs, website screen shots and photos. These and other steps, detailed in the “Guidelines and Policies” section of the SEMA Exhibitor Services Manual, will make your case, allowing us to effectively consider your complaint and take appropriate action.

The SEMA and PRI Shows are industry-leading global events. Your trade association is taking steps to make sure that IP scofflaws will not have a home at our most important trade events. Please take steps to secure your IP rights and become familiar with SEMA’s new Show policies so that we can help you protect your IP interests and get the most from participating at the SEMA and PRI Shows.

—Chris Kersting, SEMA President and CEO

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