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Content: to be free or not to be free?

Posted by ipelton on: August 29th, 2011

There is a growing debate in professional (including legal) communities as to whether and how much free content professionals should provide? Does providing free content make you a thought leader? Does it make your advice more valuable? Or does it dilute the value since so much information can be had at no cost?

I am a firm believer that providing a wealth of content is good for several reasons, including:

– Establishes expertise/credibility

– Answers questions and helps people

– Improves search engine rankings

– Improves name recognition and awareness

People searching for free information are unlikely to become good clients/partners anyways. And those searching for information will find it somewhere – why not find it from me? And those who recognize the experience and thought leadership demonstrated in the content will see the value in having such a person “in their corner” advising about the specifics of their situation.  

While much of law and the world may be more and more about efficiencies and reducing barriers, there is no substitute for individual, specific advice that pertains to a real world situation. Yes, anyone can fill out a form; but that does not mean they should. I could fill out IRS forms myself, but that does not mean that I would know how to taking advantage of the rules and savings and tools that are possible. I could even try to take apart and engine and re-build it, but I might cause more damage or worse yet hurt myself.

In my field of trademarks, it is probably true that a ten year old — or a computer — can fill in the fields in a trademark application. But that application may not properly reflect the mark, the goods/services, and many other things. Can the automatic form generator analyze and determine:

Who owns the trademark? Is the trademark in use by the applicant? Is there a potential conflict? Should a logo or a standard character mark be filed? Is it is certification mark? Which description of goods or services is the most accurate? How many International Classes are required? What constitutes proper evidence of use? Should I seek maximum protection or the path of least resistance to obtaining a valid registration? Who is eligible to sign the application? Should a logo be filed in color or black and white? Do I have a system established for monitoring and tracking the status of the application to ensure it does not get abandoned? If the trademark becomes registered, when will it need to be renewed? What symbol should be used with the trademark?

These are just a handful of the many questions that can factor into representing a client for “simple” trademark application. The list of questions about doesn’t even address any of the much more complicated questions that may arise if a substantive refusal is issued by the USPTO.

I provide clients with real value because my experience allows me to advise them regarding the many issues and questions that can and do arise in the process of protecting and registering a trademark. As a result, I am not afraid to provide general information and advice in the form of free content on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the Apptorney® iPhone application and this IPelton® blog.

I was recently quoted on these same concepts in an online article from SHRM Online: Should Consultants Give Away Intellectual Capital? (member only access) published by the Society for Human Resource Management. Here are a few excertps from the piece by Lin Grensing-Pophal:

Pelton, an attorney with Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC in Arlington, Va., said: “Generally, my philosophy is that in today’s day and age providing a wealth of information is a good thing and is generally advisable.”

Pelton, who said he provides free information through blogs, podcasts and videos, said: “You may find something valuable in an article, but that can never replace having one-on-one, specific guidance or consultation for a real situation.” 

Pelton advised HRconsultants to take steps to protect that information through the proper use of copyright and trademark notices, something that he finds few do…. “Every time there’s original content, whether it’s an article or a video or audio piece, or even a graphic, they should use a proper copyright notice,” he said. HR consultants might choose to file a copyright notice with the U.S. Copyright Office or might decide to trademark their business name or aspects of their practices.

SHRM: Society for Human Resource Management

Do you believe that content should be free?

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