Nasir and Matt talk about Airbus's strategy to patent everything, including bicycle seats. They also answer, "Hi guys. I'm thinking of creating a university professor rating website just like RateMyProfessors.com but for my country (Lebanon). Can I do that? It's not gonna be an exact replica. Some things will be different. Do I need to take permission from RMP to do this? What about the universities? Now, I'm thinking about ways to keep it clean and moderated, but how legal is it for me to create a sort of medium to judge professors? Thanks."
Full Podcast Transcript
NASIR: Welcome! This is Legally Sound Smart Business.
This is Nasir Pasha.
MATT: And this is Matt Staub.
NASIR: And welcome to our podcast where we cover business in the news and add our legal twist and also answer some of your business legal questions that you can send in to email@example.com but also we have a Twitter account now but I don’t know what it is. Actually, I do. You would think it’s, like, @legallysoundsmartbusiness, but I think it’s too long. So, I had to get @askbizlaw so you can tweet us there for questions as well.
MATT: @Askbizlaw, yeah. Looking at it right now.
NASIR: We have a total of three followers and they encompass myself and Matt and Pasha Law. Wow. Nice start of that.
MATT: It’s also following the same three people.
NASIR: Yeah, exactly. That’s a good start.
MATT: It is brand new and you didn’t even tell me about it. I just saw it because it was following me.
NASIR: That’s true.
MATT: We haven’t really promoted it at all.
NASIR: This is the first time.
MATT: Yeah, we can’t even expect anyone to find it without us telling them beforehand.
NASIR: I didn’t even want to mention it in the podcast just in case it blew up. Twitter would kick us out for how many followers we would get. So, I was just kind of reluctant about that.
MATT: Yeah, it’s done that with other people.
NASIR: Yeah, don’t follow us right away – stream it out over the course of time if you would. Thanks.
MATT: All right, let’s get into the story that we have for today.
This deals with Airbus and I’m not really that familiar with Airbus. I mean, I looked into it a little bit after reading the article but the story here is that they’re seeking a patent for bicycle seats in the cabins. People hate flying as is but, having these bicycle seats instead of normal seats, I can only guess would make flying worse. But, if you look into the article a little bit more, it’s not that simple. Basically, their strategy is this, they’re filing all these patents legitimately just in case the industry shifts over time and maybe all planes will eventually have these bicycle seats. They just want to have this locked down just in case that happens. I guess they do this with a lot of other patents. They just try to guess where the future’s going to go. If it goes that way, it’s good for them. But I can’t see planes shifting to these bicycle seats because no one’s going to want to fly on a plane with this.
NASIR: Yeah. Well, Airbus is basically the competitor of Boeing. Maybe people are more familiar with that. Boeing would be based in Washington, right? I think they’re moving or something. But, anyway, it looks like these seats are basically stacked like cattle. I think that’s the main component of this because, I don’t know if you’ve flown lately but it used to be that you used to have space on the plane, but now it’s like stacked up to the brim and I think they found a way to get more people on there.
MATT: It has to be the reason why they’re doing it the way they’re doing.
“To increase the number of cabin seats, the space allotted to each passenger must be reduced.”
I mean, like I said, no one’s going to want to take a flight where they’re sitting on a bicycle seat. I don’t like riding a bicycle because of the seat to begin with. I guess these can be nice, comfortable bicycle seats. But, even then, it’s still not very comfortable.
NASIR: I’m actually trying to figure out why they filed the patent in Europe and not as well in the United States. I assume there must be a reason for it, but not being a patent attorney, I don’t know what the answer is.
MATT: That’s a good point. We’re just sitting here, thinking, ten minutes of silence on the podcast.
NASIR: I know. Let’s call one up right now.
I’ve got to find that out. Maybe we’ll update it on the show notes or something like that because there has to be a strategic reason to it.
MATT: But what do you think of the strategy that they’ve been doing of filing all these different patents? They’re basically just taking flyers – no pun intended – they’re taking flyers on these ideas that they hope maybe one day, like I said, the industry shifts and this is what it’s going to be. Do you think that’s a good strategy? Is it worth the time and the money?
NASIR: Well, I think, for a big company, filing a patent is not a big deal. The costs aren’t that prohibitive. For a smaller one, the strategy is a little bit different, I think. But this is the general rule when it comes to intellectual property and patents; the more intellectual property you have, the more value you can add to your business. A lot of times, the best way to file a patent is to use it as a defensive patent rather than an offensive – meaning, as a precautionary step, you know, especially if you’re a startup or something like that, the idea is having that protection and bringing value to your business and the thing is how patent laws are designed today is such that you can pretty much just patent anything and not necessarily have to actually implement it. I don’t think anyone is too keen on the idea – at least for now – of these bicycle seats or what-have-you.
NASIR: Are there actual pedals? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I’m looking at the diagram but I don’t see any pedals. You know what it looks like? It looks like a rollercoaster ride.
MATT: Yeah, it does look like a rollercoaster. When I first saw it, I thought it was one of those – I don’t know if you’ve seen these or not but they’re big vehicles and it kind of looks like this but they do have pedals and everyone’s just kind of responsible for getting the vehicle to move together. The first time I saw it was in Denver. It’s big in other countries. Usually, it’s two rows of people facing each other. That’s what I thought this was at first and then I looked at it and realized it was an airplane. I was like, “Well, that’s probably not going to work out.”
NASIR: It could also be like a Viking ship where everyone has to row together in order for the plane to fly.
MATT: Yeah, that’s not dangerous.
NASIR: We’ve got to put this image in our show notes. It’s just too hilarious.
MATT: Yeah, it is. I don’t see this working out but I guess we’ll see what happens. You never know.
NASIR: We’ll all be standing in our airplane across the ocean.
MATT: All right, let’s get into the question of the day.
“Hi guys! I’m thinking of creating a university professor rating website just like RateMyProfessors.com but for my country, Lebanon. Can I do that? It’s not going to be an exact replica. Some things will be different. Do I need to take permission from RateMyProfessors to do this? What about the universities? Now, I’m thinking about ways to keep it clean and moderated, but how legal is it for me to create a sort of medium to judge professors? Thanks!”
NASIR: You’re welcome! I think that’s the first person that actually said “thanks” in their question. I really appreciate that.
MATT: So, we have to answer it.
NASIR: Exactly, that’s why we have to answer it.
Well, what’s interesting about this question is that, even though this person is in Lebanon, I think other people in the United States – where this podcast is recorded – will benefit from this answer because I think the same kind of concept applies.
Basically, you have a business that you want to replicate based upon someone else. It kind of goes along with this whole patent idea because the only issues that come to mind is whether or not you’re infringing on any intellectual property that is a patent or a trademark and copyright, but that’s pretty much it. You can’t patent or copyright an idea. And so, the question, is what you’re doing infringing upon RateMyProfessors.com? What do you think, Matt?
MATT: There was something else I was going to follow-up with too but I’ll answer that first.
I don’t think it’s really infringing on anything. It’s basically the same thing like Yelp – if we created a similar product to Yelp – because, at the end of the day, you’re reviewing someone. You know, Yelp, you’re reviewing businesses, but you’re reviewing professors in this case. I wouldn’t be as concerned with the infringement issue as I would be some sort of defamation problem. I know we talked about this last week with that one website.
NASIR: TheDirty.com, yeah. I don’t recall the details of RateMyProfessors. I know people can post whatever but I think the issue with that is, in Lebanon, I’m sure the laws when it comes to freedom of speech and defamatory laws are a little bit different.
He also asked whether or not he needs permission from the universities. That’s kind of interesting because universities have come down on certain websites that have used their logo, for example, in their subsection of their site. You know, I think namely Reddit was one of them where they had a whole sub-Reddit dedicated to a specific university and they had the logo on there and the university sent them a letter. And then, there’s an issue with that with fair use and copyright. So, a couple of issues there. You probably don’t need to seek the permission of the universities but just make sure you’re not infringing upon their intellectual property at the same time.
MATT: Right. I think I used RateMyProfessors back in the day – or maybe a similar website. You know, basically, how it works is they’ll have a school and you go to the school and you go to the list and it has a list of teachers or professors and you look for the one you’re trying to find and then it’ll just have basically ratings. I think it rates them in different categories but I remember some of the stuff that people wrote weren’t the most glowing reviews so that’s what I would say might be a little bit concerning. But, if you run this website, you’re not the one writing it. I don’t know about the free speech laws in Lebanon but maybe it’s a little bit different.
NASIR: I think that would be the concern on that. But, from a conceptual point of view, just going back to the original question, you can replicate pretty much any website or concept. I mean, look at how many variations of the same kind of website are out there. Just take social media – you have Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Myspace, and all that stuff. And then, you have chat rooms and/or instant messengers that are different. And so, it’s very common for people to copy each other because they think they can do it better and I think that’s part of competition. But, of course, there are limits and I think the limits come down to just intellectual property infringement which I think it’s a small, narrow gap for that. I think it’s very easy to get around those kind of issues.
MATT: I agree, that’s where it falls down and that’s where it comes down to. So, I wouldn’t get any permission from RateMyProfessors. I wouldn’t contact them.
NASIR: Yeah, that’s true.
MATT: I’d say you just do it.
NASIR: Yeah, I was just thinking, if they could work with RateMyProfessors to build a Lebanon version because I’m sure it has to be in the local language but it’s probably just better to do it yourself.
MATT: All right. Yeah, I think that answers it.
NASIR: All right. Well, thanks for listening to our podcast episode #70.
MATT: Yeah, keep it sound and keep it smart.