The term multi-media generally implies a combination of media for the
storage, transmission, or playback of visual and aural information.
Technology for such applications evolves at a bewildering pace, but the
law protecting innovation still relies on centuries-old concepts. New
ideas and methods can be protected as trade secrets, under copyright law,
and through patents. (Trademark protection applies primarily to
identification of products and services in actual commerce and will
be discussed at most in passing.) Trade secret law, now largely statutory,
at least in the United States, evolved from protection against unfair
competition. It protects commercially valuable information, not
necessarily novel or creative, which is not generally known, especially
to competitors. Copyright law does not protect novel ideas, only the
new and unique expressionof ideas, new or old. It applies to creative
products, including songs, novels, movies, as well as some business
documents, and especially to software. Copyright protection of software
intricate refinements as to exactly what is protected from copying.
Compiliations, such as databases, also enjoy limited copyright protection.
Patent law gives protection to ideas, but only if they have application in
the real world. In European patent law, the catch word is "industrial
applicability." To be protected, inventions also must be novel, that is,
not virtually identical to someone else's prior invention, and not be
obvious. In European patent law, non- obviousness is characterized as
having an "inventive step." These basic modes of protection apply both
to the content of multi-media applications and to the means of storing,
transmitting, and playback and display of the content. New content is
relatively easy to protect under copyright law, although enforcement is
another matter. New hardware is also relatively easy to protect under
patent law. Patent protection of software, including but not limited
to digital signal processing methods, has undergone substantial
development, at least in the United States, in the last ten years, but
is still to some extent groping for a workable distinction between
computer programs that represent pure ideas and are not protectable
and those that have application to the real world. Some effort will be
made to highlight differences between United States law and European law
with respect to the foregoing topics.
Mr. Williams received a B.S. in Physics from Boston College and an M.S. and
Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, also in Physics. After serving
as a Naval officer, including a tour as an instructor in Physics at the
U.S. Naval Academy, he was a post-doctoral fellow in Nuclear Physics at the
University of Rochester, where he published a number of papers in nuclear
reaction theory and calculation of parameters, especially for fission
reactions. Subsequently he received his law degree from the University of
Michigan Law School, graduating magna cum laude. Since that time Mr.
Williams has practiced law in a variety of settings but concentrating on
engineering and technical problems. During the last decade he has
concentrated more and more on patent law and its applications.