From Volume 87, Number 4 (May 2014)
Imagine you are the CEO of a new company in Silicon Valley, California. The company recently developed a revolutionary laptop screen that is not only entirely scratch resistant, but also allows for 3-D viewing. The company just entered into a contract with Orange Computer to be the sole manufacturer of Orange’s newly advertised “Made in Silicon Valley” computer. Located among the terms of the contract is a license, which allows the company to use Orange’s applicable patent and trademarks. As a result, the company heavily invests in its new enterprise and begins to profit. A few months later, however, Orange recognizes massive losses since it did not account for higher business costs in Silicon Valley. This forces Orange to file for bankruptcy and reject the license, leaving your company unable to manufacture its product without infringing on Orange’s trademarks. This risks your company’s vitality and ultimate existence.
The scenario above illustrates an example of a modern business practice-trademark licensing-and its tension with bankruptcy law. In today’s “[n]ew [w]orld,” intellectual property (“IP”) is an extremely important economic asset for many companies. An owner of IP has the ability to either (1) prevent others from using it or (2) authorize its use to a third party through licensing. The latter practice of licensing has grown significantly in the global economy, as it is a substantial source of revenue for many companies. Additionally, using IP to secure lending from a bank has become popular. Nevertheless, the value of IP licenses is limited due to risks created by economic hardships, with trademark licenses particularly vulnerable in cases of bankruptcy. In fact, since 1988, out of 1100 bankruptcy filings concerning IP, over 600 involve trademarks.