Technology companies often like to launch their ground-breaking new products at trade shows, and the world of professional audio is no different. The presence of professional audio brands at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) trade shows has dramatically increased in recent years and January 2017’s Winter NAMM trade show in Anaheim was no exception. A huge variety of professional audio companies were out in force showcasing their newest and most desirable products for thousands of potential customers to get their hands on and spread the hype.
However, being the first is not always enough and so it is important for audio companies to take steps to protect the innovations and improvements surrounding their products. This can be achieved in many different ways and we will be looking at a few different examples of this below.
One of the key drivers in professional audio in recent years has been the push towards an increased level of digital processing / transmission, with a key example being the rise of digital audio mixing consoles that can provide increased functionality in a reduced form factor. While digital consoles have been around for many years, the recent reductions in price have increased the product market by making digital consoles accessible to smaller venues or houses of worship whose users may be volunteers or other less experienced users.
Digital consoles typically reduce the number of available physical encoders while increasing the functionality of the console and so it is necessary for a number of features to be implemented on the same encoders using layers or functionality switching. This can present a learning curve to less experienced users and so improvements in the usability and workflow of the consoles have also become more important. A notable example is the use of multiple layers or banks of motorised faders. In one bank a fader may control the sound level of an input signal, but in another bank the fader may be assigned to a different function (e.g. the level of an effects processing unit, a digital-controlled amplifier, or an output bus such as an auxiliary send, a group or matrix out or an LCR).
In response to this problem, Studer developed a system for a fader track with an inbuilt light source that can emit a colour along the fader track with the colour corresponding to the function of the fader track at any given moment in time. This concept has been granted patents in Europe and the US and has been implemented in the Studer Vista 5 console as well as other consoles in the Harman family, such as the Soundcraft Vi and Si consoles. Importantly, the patent protection for this feature, known as FaderGlow, has enabled Harman to prevent this technology being incorporated into competitors’ products, as highlighted by the 2014 settlement between Harman and D&M Holdings where D&M agreed to modify the Calrec Apollo and Artemis consoles, which had been alleged to infringe Harman’s patents.
A recent example from DiGiCo is the granted UK patent for an audio fader that includes a signalling means to provide vibrational feedback signals to alert the user to an unrelated event. Another DiGiCo patent application aimed at increasing usability is for the True Solo feature, which enables an operator to listen to the end result of the processing that is being carried out on a single source, even if a part of that processing is being applied to the source in a group with a number of other sources.
While it has been many years since the first device for recording sound sources was developed, innovation in this area is still strong. Towards the end of 2016 Shure launched their patented Dualdyne microphone capsule. This provides a dual-diaphragm dynamic transducer in an arrangement that can efficiently reduce the proximity effect whereby the frequency response of the microphone changes as the source is brought into close proximity with the microphone, which causes the low frequency response to be increased.
However, innovation in the professional audio field doesn’t always need to be high tech, and a great example of this is the patent pending moisture shield that has been developed by AKG for the sweaty performer using a head-worn microphone such as the C544 L!
The appearance of these professional audio products also contribute to their desirability to consumers and it is important to consider protecting design elements that are new and would give a different impression to informed consumers. Design applications may be filed for the look and feel of an entire audio console, such as the L-shaped design of the Allen & Heath Qu series consoles or distinctive speaker housings, or for individual elements, such as a new look for the rotary encoders.
Trade marks also play an important part in the protection of the intellectual property of professional audio companies, and while it is always key to register your house mark, in both word and stylised forms if possible, we would also recommend looking to further develop your strategy for your trade mark portfolio. For example, it can be very beneficial to register trade marks for the names of products or series’ of products as well as proprietary features, such as the FaderGlow feature discussed above and DiGiCo’s Stealth Digital Processing.
If you have any questions about how you can protect your intellectual property, then please contact one of the team at Reddie & Grose LLP to discuss your ideas further.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.