This article appeared in the July 2021 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
The term Industry 4.0 has been here for a decade. “Industrie 4.0,” was originally coined in Europe when a team of scientists helped the German government launch a high-tech strategy to promote the computerization of manufacturing. Across the globe, breakthroughs in robotics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing and other emerging technologies have and continue to transform the manufacturing landscape.
Many of these concepts are still relatively new to some manufacturers, but Industry 4.0 is evolving much more rapidly than previous industrial revolutions. This accelerated pace is due to the digital revolution, which resulted in easy access to an unprecedented amount of information that helps tomorrow’s technology build on today’s.
Thanks to this digital revolution, patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and other forms of intellectual property (IP) protection are now more important than ever. Businesses are realizing that protecting their trade secrets and their own (and their customers’) information is critical to their success.
If anyone has had their finger on the pulse of Industry 4.0 all along — even before the term was coined — that would be Michael B. Stewart. While working as an engineer at GM and as a systems engineer for the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan, Stewart was told, “anyone who likes to argue as much as you do should become an attorney.” So he did.
After working at a general practice firm and realizing it wasn’t practical in the firm environment there to devote the amount of resources to intellectual property law that he felt were needed to meet client needs, Stewart cofounded a law firm that does just that. Fishman Stewart helps their clients turn their creativity into valuable “intellectual capital.”
That was 25 years ago, and Stewart is still a practicing engineer. “I do more engineering now than I did when solely working as an engineer before law school,” he says.
The information age, Industry 4.0 and even the pandemic have increased the need for IP protection. “Overall, our profession has been very busy,” Stewart says. “Information is power and controlling your data is valuable. Your creativity and protecting it is often more important than your physical assets such as a manufacturing plant.”
For those concerned about protecting their business-related creativity, Stewart advises, “it’s important to have agreements in place and the right protocols in place to protect your information, especially your trade secrets.”
Many organizations are using technology to develop new, novel approaches to manufacturing. They may be able to capitalize on their ingenuity beyond meeting customer demand and increasing productivity. If you want to take what others have done and build upon it, Stewart recommends conducting “state of the art searching.” And if you think you have invented something completely new, he recommends considering a “patentability search” and potentially filing for patent protection.
Other mechanisms to protect creativity include copyrights, which protect the expression of ideas, and trademarks, which typically focus on branding.
One thing is certain and is applicable to just about all of industry — protecting your creativity using IP has become increasingly important as we continue to march into a digital-driven future.
Fishman Stewart PLLC is an MMA Premium Associate Member and has been an MMA member company since February 2021. Visit online: