Cloud computing: The issues of a developing technology
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Cloud computing: The issues of a developing technology

In recent years an increasing number of hot topics at the INTA Annual Meeting have concerned not trends in jurisprudence, or the issues of emerging industries, but the ways in which different media have forced practitioners to take a fresh look at their practice.

Social media is the most obvious example, with a variety of offshoots depending on the platform. The use of fluid marks is perhaps another, with both sharing themes of flexibility and creativity. The newest area is cloud computing. The law is the same, the players are similar, but the trademark issues are cast in a subtly different light.

“There is a general awareness that there is something called the cloud out there, but that’s where the understanding ends,” says Sanjiv D. Sarwate of Dell, who is speaking on the topic this morning.

“The cloud is a means to access and provide all types of different information, and so it means different things to different people—to a consumer, to a service provider, to counsel at companies that use it,” says Sarwate. “Part of our job is to explain exactly what it is and how it can affect everyone in the room.”

The perceived ignorance of cloud computing was amply demonstrated by a popular video on US satirical website The Onion. In it a news program suggests that Hewlett-Packard has issued a press release saying it has launched “that cloud thing everyone is talking about.” A shot of a research laboratory shows two technicians, one gluing cotton wool onto a laptop, the other spraying one with a smoke machine—both trying to replicate the cloud. In an advertisement for the new service, the presenter says: “It is so easy and intuitive that there’s no point me wasting your time explaining it to you.” The video was one of the most viewed on The Onion, with over 6,500 people sharing it on Facebook.

Is there anything new here?

Like discussions about social media and fluid marks, the panel will include some skepticism about whether cloud computing is actually very new. People have long been able to share information over the Internet, and store it. It’s just now at such a scale that it is a reasonable option for normal consumers and for businesses in their day-to-day activities.

“I’m definitely one of the skeptics,” says Sarwate. “I’ve been around long enough that I remember all the fuss there was about domain names and how they were going to change how we all practiced trademark law. There are different processes now to deal with infringement in domain names, such as Icann’s UDRP process, but it’s not as if the law had to be fundamentally rewritten.”

“There are lots of interesting things happening in the cloud, but they only tangentially touch upon trademarks. My conclusion to almost any discussion on this is: keep calm and carry on.”

One of those interesting things is the way in which technology is converging across platforms and media, meaning that users can seamlessly switch from watching a film on their TV at home—for example—to their mobile on the train to work. It is, in essence, fulfilling the potential of the Internet in terms of connection and access.

This means different providers potentially working together—one area in which Sarwate predicts some trademark issues coming up. “The lines between your colleague, your supplier and your competitor are going to become a little blurred. You may end up co-branding some efforts and you will have to come up with agreements that govern the use of each other’s brands. That relationship may evolve over time, making it necessary to change that agreement too.”

The issues will not necessarily be that different from those faced by any peers working together, particularly in the technology industry, but they will change more rapidly and affect more people.

IT01 Industry Breakout: Trademarks in the Cloud takes place today from 10:15 am to 11:30 am in Ballroom C

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What is the cloud?

Cloud computing refers to the ability of consumers and businesses to share an increasingly large amount of information and services using remote servers—rather than keeping it on their computers. At a simple level, individuals can put documents on the cloud and invite colleagues to access and update them. At a more complex level, businesses and consumers can use software over the cloud rather than having to download and store it themselves.

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