lrts: Vol. 54 Issue 1: p. 58
Book Review: Intellectual Property: Everything the Digital-Age Librarian Needs to Know
Ginger Williams

Ginger Williams, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas;

On first impression, the word “everything” in the subtitle worried me; I am skeptical of such obvious hyperbole. Although a single slim book can not address everything a librarian needs to know about intellectual property, Timothy Lee Wherry has written an excellent introduction to patent, copyright, and trademark issues for librarians. Aspiring inventors, authors, artists, and business people often rely on public and academic libraries for help in researching intellectual property issues, so librarians need to be familiar with common issues and basic search techniques. Despite the legal and technical topics discussed, the text is easy to read, with many examples to illustrate concepts.

Wherry begins by explaining the distinctions between patents, trademarks, and copyright in simple terms. He uses familiar examples, such as Crest toothpaste, as examples of the interplay between different types of intellectual property. The opening chapter also introduces some issues that arise when intellectual property laws must cope with new technologies. Wherry weaves more examples of legal disputes involving patents, copyrights, and trademarks throughout the book, illustrating how courts interpret intellectual property law in new contexts. The varied and current examples are a strength of the book, but unfortunately the author does not provide complete citations or a table of cases. He frequently mentions a case by brief name, such as Field v. Google, without indicating the year or the court that decided the case.

Wherry devotes two chapters each to patents and trademarks. In the first chapter on patents, he discusses the three types of patents granted in the United States, requirements for obtaining a patent, concepts such as expiration and assignees, and patent history. He also discusses and gives examples of hobby patenting, patent trolls, and efforts to make inventions profitable after a patent is secured. Librarians may want to share the section on the cost of securing a patent with hobby inventors. Librarians involved in developing policies for disseminating research should read the requirements section carefully; for example, I immediately thought about potential issues in adding dissertations to institutional repositories while reading about the originality requirement.

The second chapter on patents explains how to search U.S. patents online. Wherry points out that the online patent search is a fairly recent innovation and the database lacks many pre–1975 records, but it is useful for helping inventors perform a preliminary search before spending money to travel to a patent depository or hire a patent attorney for a complete search of the paper and microform records. As the author mentions, webpages change frequently, but while some of the screen shots are outdated, I was able to find and perform all the search steps without difficulty. While the book warns librarians not to slip from explaining search strategies to interpreting patents (since patent interpretation is legal advice), I wish this warning had been given earlier and repeated in the context of trademark searching. The author’s experience in working with inventors on patent searches is obvious throughout this chapter; for example, he discusses the importance of keeping thorough search notes, so if a patent attorney is hired later the attorney will not need to duplicate searches.

The two chapters on trademarks are also divided between a discussion of concepts and issues and a step-by-step explanation of how to search trademarks. Librarians working with business people are likely to find these chapters particularly valuable. The concepts chapter explains the difference between state and federal trademarks, the benefits of registering trademarks, and the economic value of trademarks, then discusses controversies involving trademarks, such as buying up Internet domain names with the intent of selling them to the trademark holder at an inflated price. The search chapter explains how to search for federally registered trademarks using the Patent and Trademark Office’s online database. Step-by-step instructions are given for searching for both word and graphic trademarks. Although the author cautions that screenshots may not match current webpages, I did not notice any differences between the trademark search chapter screenshots and the website when I tried the example searches. While searching state trademarks and unregistered trademarks was beyond the scope of the chapter, the author does mention that Internet search engines can be useful in identifying trademarks in use.

The single chapter on copyright uses photographs, music and other sound recordings, fiction and nonfiction writing, and other creative works as examples of the six rights secured by copyright, suggesting the complexities of applying copyright law in different contexts. Wherry does a good job of introducing the concept of fair use, emphasizing that four factors are balanced in deciding whether a specific use qualifies for the fair use exemption. The brief section on fair use in distance education settings is just enough to alert librarians to the need for further information when developing policies related to electronic reserves, course management software, and online tutorials or classes. Sections on the Conference on Fair Use guidelines, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and recent court cases are sufficient to alert librarians to the need to pay attention to changing interpretations of copyright law.

The author explains that copyright registration is no longer required in the United States. Orphan works (that is, works still in their copyright protection period but for which the copyright owner is uncertain), have been a topic of concern to librarians and others in recent years, but the book does not discuss the difficulty a lack of a registration requirement poses for people who want to secure permission to use copyrighted materials. Like many introductions to copyright, this one asserts that “government documents are not copyrighted” (69) without clarifying that while U.S. federal government documents are not copyrighted, state and local government documents are protected by copyright unless the state has decided otherwise.

This chapter is a good orientation to copyright, but most librarians will need more information. Complete Copyright: An Everyday Guide for Librarians and Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators are easily read books targeted at librarians, but the slightly more technical but comprehensive Distance Learning and Copyright is an essential reference for librarians who deal with copyright issues extensively.1

The book includes two appendixes and an index. The first appendix consists of Yehuda Berlinger’s verse versions of the copyright, patent, and trademark codes. Wherry says he finds these verses, with stanzas headed by the relevant code reference, useful in locating specific statutes. The second appendix is a list of patent and trademark depository libraries by state. The index is fairly good; I was able to find references to terms such as “cybersquatting” and mechanical patents, company names, court cases, and major laws, but there was no cross-reference from lawyer to attorney. A bibliography of suggested readings would have been a useful addition, as would a table of cases mentioned in the text.

This slim book is an excellent brief introduction to intellectual property issues for librarians and library staff. The step-by-step explanations of searching free online patent and trademark databases will be useful in most public, academic, and special libraries.

1. Carrie Russell ,  Complete Copyright: An Everyday Guide for Librarians (Chicago:  ALA, 2004): Kenneth D. Crews, Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators: Creative Strategies and Practical Solutions, 2nd ed. (Chicago: ALA, 2006); Steven A. Armatas, Distance Learning and Copyright: A Guide to Legal Issues (Chicago: ALA, 2008).

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