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Ask Our Lawyer - October 2003

Q: I like to tinker with my bike, and over the years, I have come up with a number of improvements for motorcycles. I'd like to market some of them, but I want to make sure no one steals my ideas. What do I need to do to protect my interests? Can I get a patent?

A: Patent law is a special branch of law, and it has rules designed to maintain the power of patent protection. The award of a patent means that no one else can sell you product without your permission. There are two types of patents, utility patents and design patents. Design patents cover only how a product looks. Utility patents are much stronger and cover how the product is used.
The first step to getting a patent is to do a patent search to make sure that your invention hasn't been invented by someone else. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has an on-line search process which will help you out doing your search.
Be very careful about who you tell about your invention and how you do it. Always have anyone you discuss the marketing of your invention with sign a non-disclosure agreement. If you do not, and discuss your invention with someone other than an attorney or patent agent, you have one year to file for your patent. If you do not, you will lose your patent rights forever.


Communities across the country are attempting to restrict more of our freedoms, but ABATE is certainly up to the challenge. Two communities in Illinois have recently enacted bans on the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and other off-road vehicles. The City of Rockford, Illinois, has attempted to regulate the types of ATVs that can be used, and the hours during which they can be used. ABATE members have been instrumental in trying to get these onerous restrictions lifted. We are happy to report that the ban has since been lifted in Rockford.
East Peoria is also trying to ban ATVs, but local ABATE members are not taking it lying down, either. Cheryl Pearre, ABATE of Illinois Legislative Coordinator and other ABATE members immediately went to work, organizing to confront the issue and make their voices heard. Terry Lee Cook, ABATE of Ohio member and director of the Government Relations Department of the American Motorcyclists Association also met with the folks in East Peoria. Cook was able to give them some pointers on increasing the citizens' effectiveness and helped to focus them on their goals. After meetings between the police chief and several ABATE members including ABATE Legal Services attorney George Tinkham, (who will soon have a fully functional Indian Chief - and it only took him 100 years to finish it), the city council announced a moratorium on the enforcement of the ordinance pending further review. ABATE of Illinois, still working toward a repeal of the ordinance, expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the moratorium.
In my view, all of these governmental efforts are simply wrong. ATVs are already regulated by the state, and efforts by the local towns to impose additional regulations should be fought. What happens when each town, village, township city or county has separate (and contradictory) ordinances governing motorcycle use? It reminds me of the way things were in the colonies, when traveling from one town to the next required the payment of a toll. Too soon, we bikers would be unable to travel on the roads at all. That's unacceptable, friends, and I am working with local chapters and the state organization to map out legislative and litigation strategies to combat these efforts.


Doc Jones, long-time motorcycle activist and former ABATE of Illinois State Coordinator and current co-S.E. Regional Coordinator for ABATE of Illinois, called to tell me about some issues on the highways and byways. It seems he was motoring along in rural Effingham County, Illinois and was being followed by a member of the local law enforcement community. This peace officer, who was motoring along the highway, with his windows up, air conditioner on and radio going, deduced that Doc Jones was violating the Illinois Noise Ordinance, stopped him and cited him for a violation of 625 ILCS 5/12-602. Bear in mind that Doc has ridden this same Harley Wide-Glide for over 130,000 miles, with the same pipes, and has never had any problems about noise with other police officers. Nonetheless, this Officer Friendly declared that Doc Jones was in violation, without testing the bike or making any kind of objective measurement. In fact, there wasn't even an aggrieved citizen making the complaint!
Doc's problem is, unfortunately, not unique. Many times, we motorcycle enthusiasts are singled out for problems that exist only in someone's fevered imagination. Ordinances that have no objective standard for measurement and citations without a complaint are but the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately for Doc, the citation was dismissed, but it seems to me that problems like this are only going to increase as local governments look for additional ways to bolster income. Diligence and vigilance are our protection. Honestly, doesn't this police officer have better things to do?


Every year I get a call from a family who has suffered, what I call the Double Tragedy: horrible injury and no insurance. What I mean is that the wrong-doer had no insurance and our ABATE member either had no insurance or inadequate insurance to protect himself and his family.
Many of our members have a difficult time understanding how this can happen and, why ABATE Legal Services cannot do something about these circumstances. What ABATE Legal Services can do is to educate our members about the effect of uninsured drivers and what we can do to protect ourselves. We know that we cannot always control the activities and irresponsibilities of others, but we know we can protect ourselves when tragedy strikes by having adequate, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage when the other guy fails to be socially responsible. All ABATE members should help us spread this word so that we never have to receive what I call the telephone call of double tragedy.


Easy Rider magazine will reprint the article remembering John "Farmer" Eggers and his many contributions to motorcycling. Look for it in an upcoming issue of Easy Rider.


"Stereotypes, of course, only lead to misleading judgments about people, which no person in today's society needs held against him or her while he of she travels down the road of life. This road is sometimes traveled on a motorcycle." Congratulations to Amanda Pierson, of Knoxville, Illinois, on being awarded the 2003 ABATE of Illinois & ABATE Legal Services Scholarship Award. Amanda's essay, "More than A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education," describes how she became involved with A.B.A.T.E., first with her mother, and then on her own. Amanda describes her journey of discovery with the people that make up A.B.A.T.E. "I had always wondered who among the people around me would always be there in my time of need to simply when I want to have fun. However, from the moment that my mom became a loyal member of A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois, I have found people who would always be there for me. I have not only made new friendships and found a second family I can call on whenever I need them." Nice work, Amanda - you have truly grasped what it means to be part of A.B.A.T.E.

Ride safe and free,
Rod Taylor
ABATE Legal Services

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206_2850, or email rodtaylor@abatelegal.com.