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Your Intellectual Property Is Not Communal Property: Protecting Companies from Unfair Competition

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Intellectual property is the lifeblood of a company’s ability to innovate, and derive royalties from and adapt to the needs of the marketplace.

Rather, the protection of that property – ensuring its integrity through an independent judiciary, and penalizing, through fines and punitive damages, those who violate that autonomy – is an inseparable part of the history of American business.

The individual companies and actors may change, they have done so throughout the annals of commerce, and they will continue to do so in the digital age.

Nowhere is this fact more relevant, and nowhere is the safeguarding of intellectual property (including patented mobile technology) more urgent, than in the conflict between two online dating sites, JDate and JSwipe.

The former is the established leader for Jewish singles, a site so successful that it transcends the religious precincts of Judaism and elicits attention from radio and TV talk show hosts, novelists and screenwriters, film producers, newspaper columnists and the arbiters of popular culture.

In other words, if there is a site – no, if there is one letter – that readily identifies a dating site as “Jewish” (with a capital J), it is JDate.

When a brand enjoys such widespread recognition, the sort of visibility that competitors may choose to exploit by appropriating that letter and sowing confusion within a specific community, the law – even this law, boxed in the recesses of my cobwebbed memory from law school – is clear: The competition does not get and has no right to a free ride at another’s expense.

You cannot, for example, launch a soft drink named “Coke”; and enjoy the sales and profits of a competitor’s earned presence in the marketplace, by way of billions of dollars in marketing and advertising, and through a global infrastructure of bottling plants, distributors, retailers and salespeople, which is the exclusive domain of the Coca-Cola Company.

All of which is, or seems to be, news to the creator of JSwipe.

A disclaimer: I am not a subscriber or user of either site; I have a wife, whom I met online through another dating site, and am not a consultant to or an employee of JDate or its parent company, Spark Networks.

My interest in this case, and the reason I encourage readers to side with JDate in this dispute, involves the broader concept of intellectual property.

A copyright, trademark or patent is no less a commodity than any such product that emerges from the toil, tears and sweat of a garage-cum-workshop manned by two business partners in Los Altos, California, or a Harvard dropout writing code in his dormitory.

Every entrepreneur and executive should follow this case because JDate has a right, legally and morally, to prevent those who would enrich themselves at the cost of misleading the consumer and weakening – or brazenly cheapening – the incalculable value of brand that resonates with Jewish men and women throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, the Americas, Asia and Israel.

Consider this dispute a test case for the sanctity of law, the sacredness of fair play and the soundness of legitimate competition.

The market can sift winners from losers.

It can separate excellence from mediocrity, and reward success and bankrupt failure.

The market cannot, however, eliminate ambiguity (or those who traffic in it). For the market is a platform, not a policeman.

If a company or a consumer wants justice, and a business wants to put an end to chaos and confusion, we have a constitution and the common law.

JDate deserves the benefit of both because it has a right – recorded in the marketplace, and secured by its longevity and prosperity – to safeguard its intellectual property.

Anything short of that standard is unjust.

Lewis Fein is an independent marketing and media relations consultant, based in Southern California. You may reach him at feinlewis@gmail.com.

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