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Aon Intellectual Property Assets Briefing - January 29, 2021

Thoughts from the Aon Team

Your Biggest IP Risk Might Be in Your Vendor Supply Chain

Welcome to our first issue for 2021. I hope you're staying safe and healthy!

Over the past several months we've talked a lot about intellectual property (IP) as an evolving asset class. No longer simply valued by volume, IP can now be evaluated, valued and articulated reliably in reasonable timeframes. With accurate assessment and valuation, IP assets can be better assessed during transactions, as a way to access capital through IP-backed lending structures and for risk, such as potential infringement risks.

What many organizations aren’t aware of, however, is that when it comes to IP infringement exposure vendors and vendor relationships account for one of the highest areas of risk and a substantial number of lawsuits.

With innovation supply chains becoming increasingly complex vendors can present numerous risks, including the possibility that their products unwittingly infringe a third-party's IP. Ideally, these risks are managed by requiring broad IP indemnification provisions in vendor contracts. But this process is only as good as the associated oversight and a vendor's ability to stand behind its obligations. In times of economic uncertainty, not only do risks of IP infringement increase, so do the possibility that vendors will not be able to meet their contractual obligations to indemnify their customers from such incidents.

This process is particularly cumbersome for large organizations with many vendors. Not only do many use ad hoc manual processes to track compliance, but the same market forces that might affect a vendor's ability to adhere to contractual obligations also make it harder for risk managers and corporate counsel to maintain compliance oversight while trying to control costs.

There are tools in the marketplace to help large organizations manage this process. And I am sure it will come as no surprise to anyone who has read this far down that we have one of them. At Aon we have developed a SaaS platform, Vendor Risk Management, that makes it easy to manage a vendor's compliance with your insurance requirements. To provide more insight into what we are doing, and who is using this tool, I encourage you to check out this video of a panel we just conducted with a group of leading financial institutions.

- Lewis Lee, CEO Aon, IP

Aon in the News

  • Aon debuted its Cyber Defense Training, a platform to improve companies' cyber defense posture by informing employees of cybersecurity risks and how to avoid them when going about their work. The program aims to assist companies with cybersecurity as more businesses turn to remote work, where employees often have weaker network security.
  • Aon highlighted natural disasters as a pain point for insurance companies, causing an estimated $97 billion in damages in 2020. Aon noted that corporations and federal actors will have a renewed focus on risk mitigation and climate change to mitigate the high costs of global natural disasters and challenges posed by the pandemic.
  • Aon hosted a webinar examining the increasing supply chain-related IP risks and mitigation strategies for banks and financial institutions, and they introduced the new Vendor Risk Management platform, designed to help large organizations manage IP-related risks.

Executive Insights

  • Former President Donald Trump signed  an executive order to restrict the use of U.S. cloud services by foreign actors. The act was viewed as a response to the SolarWinds cyber attack last month. The order gives the Commerce Department authority to impose record-keeping obligations on foreign transactions. National Security Advisor Robert C. O'Brien called the order a necessary step to protect intellectual property in the U.S. given the direct role the nation’s cloud services played in the SolarWinds attack.
    • The federal judiciary will now store sensitive court documents on a private, stand-alone computer system. Information such as investigative techniques and the names of subjects under surveillance will shift offline, underscoring the judiciary system’s lack of confidence in its network’s integrity.
  • Tesla filed a lawsuit against a former employee for allegedly stealing back-end development secrets. The lawsuit argues that the information taken could be given to competitors and irreparably harm Tesla's competitive edge in the market. It is one of a string of suits Tesla has filed against former employees for trade theft, some of them still ongoing.
    • Trump pardoned a former Google engineer accused of stealing software relevant to the company's self-driving car venture. Anthony Levandowski was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he was found guilting of stealing information and starting his own autonomous car company. The judge said it was "the biggest trade-secret crime” he had “ever seen."
  • Some IP experts are hoping that incoming President Joe Biden makes the Trademark Modernization Act of 2020 a main priority in his administration, while the International Trademark Association emphasized the importance of combatting counterfeit products.  Vice President Kama Harris’ legislative record suggests that U.S. technology and IP will receive a boost in protection for U.S. firms abroad while enabling them to capture gains in the supply chain, industry experts say.
  •  Nike is defending its receipt of royalty payments from Dutch authorities for the use of its intellectual property. Nike urged Europe’s second-highest court to annul an EU investigation into its Dutch tax rulings after EU enforcers said the tax payments appeared to be too high. They said the payments would have been lower if arranged between two private entities and the Dutch payments amounted to illegal state aid.
  • Warner Bros. filed an oppositional claim against a life-coaching service that uses the famous Bugs Bunny catchphrase “What’s up, Doc?” for its services. The life-coaching service company has until Feb. 22 to respond to Warner Bros., which has failed to secure exclusive rights to quotes in the past.

News of Interest

  • Countries worldwide look to acquire the intellectual property rights of Covid-19 vaccine makers - CNBC - 1/22/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 156 Interactions; Twitter: 61 Tweets
    • The severity of the coronavirus crisis has led many to argue that products for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19 should be global public goods. This “compulsory licensing” approach has gained many followers and has been supported by countries such as South Africa and India. A compulsory license suspends the monopoly effect of a patent holder to produce and supply the product.
  • Biden’s Opportunity to Protect American Innovation - IP Watchdog - 1/19/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 8 Interactions; Twitter: 25 Tweets
    • We need our next generation of innovators to be encouraged and inspired – that starts with allowing them to patent their ideas. Inspiring America’s innovators also means protecting them. The United States currently has weak IP laws that allow larger companies to take advantage of smaller ones. [...]We need to change the perverse incentives in IP law so that America is investing in innovators, not litigators.
  • Alternative Forum for Copyright Owners Finally Available - Global IP & Technology Law Blog - 1/3/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 1 Interaction; Twitter: 2 Tweets
    • Copyright owners seeking damages under $30,000 now have the choice of adjudicating their claims outside of federal court. Passed as part of the December 2020 COVID-19 relief bill, the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019 (“CASE Act”) created an alternative small claims tribunal system that can adjudicate certain copyright infringement claims.
  • Elon Musk's 'The Boring Company' Facing Trademark Infringement Lawsuit - Mandour & Associates Intellectual Property Law - 1/20/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 1 Interaction; Twitter: 1 Tweet
    • A Nevada LLC known as The Boring Company filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Musk’s Delaware corporation with the same name. Elon Musk’s business and has recently made headlines by securing major infrastructure and tunnel construction contracts. The plaintiff in the case, however, says the Boring name belongs to them.
  • US Trademark Modernization Act Provides New Relief to Trademark Owners - Global IP & Technology Law Blog - 1/4/2021
    • Outbound Virality: Facebook: 0 Interactions; Twitter: 1 Tweet
    • False claims of use and fake specimens of use have bedeviled the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and legitimate trademark owners for many years. The Trademark Modernization Act of 2020 (“TMA”) [...] provides significant relief for trademark owners’ efforts to combat that fraud. [...] On the trademark front, the legislation makes it easier for trademark registrants to obtain injunctive relief and provides new mechanisms for challenging trademark applications and registrations on non-use grounds.

Social Contribution

  • Department of State @StateDept 4 Jan .@SecPompeo: The momentum in favor of secure 5G is building. Countries need to be able to trust that 5G equipment and software won't threaten national security, economic security, privacy, intellectual property, or human rights. Retweets: 328 Likes: 1.1K
  • Sarah Lazare @sarahlazare 25 Jan Then there is the role Pfizer is playing in (successfully) lobbying the US to block a WTO proposal that'd allow cheaper, generic versions of vaccines to get to the Global South. Here's Pfizer's CEO speaking against the proposal by invoking the sacredness of intellectual property Retweets: 11 Likes: 20
  • World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) @WIPO 25 Jan Intellectual property and artificial intelligence: Summary of WIPO's second and third conferences on IP and AI Download the document here: #WIPOipAI #AI Retweets: 31 Likes: 55
  • Attomus - Total Security @AttomusHQ 1 Jan #Cybersecurity is important because it offers solutions for protecting our data, personally identifiable information, protected health information, personal information, intellectual property, and governmental information systems from theft and damage attempted. #PII #PHI Retweets: 6 Likes: 0
  • Insurance Journal @ijournal 25 Jan Heinz Joins Lockton from Aon as Partner in Transaction Liability Practice Retweets: 0 Likes: 0

Aon’s Intellectual Property Solutions team helps clients identify, protect, and maximize value from their most valuable assets in today’s business world, their intellectual property. Aon brings the best minds and strong analytical tools to provide a comprehensive approach to intellectual property strategy, valuation and risk management across a client’s business -- aligning current and future intellectual property assets with a businesses’ overarching strategy.

For more information about Aon’s Intellectual Property Solutions, please contact  

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