Idaho companies can do a better job of protecting their intellectual property, according to the person hired by Simplot Co. to do just that.
Likening himself to the little boy in the movie Sixth Sense who sees dead people, Vid Mohan-Ram, chief intellectual property counsel, said he sees intellectual property everywhere. At a recent event for Idaho technology businesses, he described steps Simplot is taking, including the launch of a patent group at the company.
This is quite a switch for Simplot, which in the days of founder J.R. Simplot often operated on a handshake, said Jay Larsen, president and CEO of the Idaho Technology Council, which sponsored the event. If that were to happen today, Mohan-Ram said he would try to take a picture of the handshake as documentation.
Simplot isn’t alone in its concerns about intellectual property. Boise Cascade is in litigation with New England Treatment Access (NETA), a Franklin, Massachusetts-based legal marijuana dispensary over NETA’s logo, which Boise Cascade argues is too similar to its logo. Boise Cascade’s website has a list of guidelines about how its trademark can be used.
“Boise Cascade has been using its Tree-in-a-Circle trademarks for over half a century,” said David Viens, a partner with Morrison Mahoney in Boston, which is representing Boise Cascade in the case. “Its trademarks are extremely valuable assets of the company, and Boise Cascade will protect its trademarks against infringement.”
He added that Boise Cascade is concerned that NETA’s similar logo “will dilute, weaken or tarnish the reputation and distinctiveness of Boise Cascade’s Tree-in-a-Circle trademarks.”
Similarly, Boise-based Micron has been involved in a series of claims and counterclaims regarding what it says is the theft of its intellectual property by employees of two Chinese companies.
The first step is to perform a freedom to operate (FTO) analysis, to ensure that a company isn’t infringing on anyone else’s patents, Mohan-Ram said.
Beyond that, companies need to look at their business and see what technologies and processes are innovative and need protection. Mohan-Ram described a three-step process: Identify, value and enforce. It took Simplot six months just to identify all of its intellectual property assets, and it didn’t have a history of enforcing its intellectual property, he said.
For example, Simplot recently developed new blades and ways to cut potatoes for its Sidewinders line of French fry products, which have both patents and brand protection, Mohan-Ram said.
“Nothing happened in the French fry world until the 1980s,” he said.
The company is currently in litigation to protect this intellectual property.
Other examples range from the ore the company mines to the fertilizer it creates, Mohan-Ram said.
Simplot also licenses a number of patents and technologies from other companies, Mohan-Ram said. “If you can’t beat them, buy them.”
Mohan-Ram asked attendees which of them had trade secrets, and what they had done to inventory them. He recommended that companies have trade secrets ranked and valued, and then work with the information technology and human resources departments to make sure they are protected in case of later issues.
Another nuance is how companies should come up with a value for their intellectual property. Simplot is in the process of doing that now with its trademarks by ranking them based on the value of sales, volume and customers for each one, Mohan-Ram said.
Members of the audience, which included attorneys and representatives from Idaho’s technology community, also had suggestions, such as protecting something as a trade secret rather than as a patent because it’s less expensive.
In an attempt to give humanities students business experience – as well as to teach businesses the value of humanities students – Boise State University has set up Work U, an internship program where students work up to 10 hours a week on projects for participating companies.
The City of Boise has taken about a dozen interns for the two semesters the program has been operating, said Sarah Cunningham, employment programs administrator. To launch the program, the city first created a policy and form for department supervisors to request interns, and then gave the requests to Boise State for students to apply, she said.
“Once an intern was selected, they had an orientation, introducing them to the culture of the city and to mentors,” she said.
One of those departments was Parks & Recreation. Their intern sat in on meetings, drafted press releases, and had face-to-face meetings with departmental leadership, as well as with Mayor Dave Bieter, said Bonnie Shelton, communications manager.
“It’s a unique opportunity to get hands-on experience, and access to people in the city who are decision-makers, so they can learn how they got to that position and figure out what they want to do for a career,” she said.
Having a younger perspective in the office also helped with social media campaigns and figuring out how to attract students, she added.
Interns are unpaid, and participate in a weekly class, said Debbie Kaylor, director of the career center at Boise State. In addition to giving students the opportunity to reflect on their experiences, classroom work covers professional experiences such as writing resumes, developing LinkedIn profiles, and behavioral interviewing.
The program was launched in the College of Innovation in Design in fall 2016 with nine students and one employer partner, St. Luke’s Health System.
“The idea is providing students with a professional experience independent of their major,” Kaylor said. Once the program gained traction, it moved to the career center, where it now has 90 opportunities with 19 employer partners, she said.
“What we hear from employers is that it’s pretty cool to have a history major in the health care system, and the different perspectives they bring in,” Kaylor said. “It’s opening their eyes to what these students are capable of, and what the students don’t even realize they’re capable of.”
Out of the approximately 50 students who have participated in the program thus far, seven have moved it into an internship, paid or unpaid, or a full-time profession with their employer partner, she said.
While problems do arise, Lonnie Jackson, the Work U assistant director, acts as a liaison between employers, the university and students, Kaylor said. “If challenges come up, as opposed to just walking away, he’s there coaching and working with the employer to help both sides through the process and turn the challenges into learning opportunities,” she said.
In addition, the career center is now developing a student employability fund for students who might not otherwise be able to afford to spend 10 hours on an unpaid internship, Kaylor said. Possibilities including donations from employers, alumni and foundations, as well as proceeds from career fairs, she said.
Boise Cascade Co. started with one student this term, who is still with them.
“The fun thing is you’re not guaranteed to get a student in the field where you’re going to place them,” said Juli Coté, corporate human resources manager. Their student worked for the communications group in the HR department, and happened to be majoring in social media and communications, she said. “That worked well, because those are the projects we had her work on as well,” she said. Projects included working on rebranding efforts, updating social media, updating brochures, and creating a recruiting video, she said.
The program worked out so well that Boise Cascade expects to take six students next term, Coté said. “It’s a great program, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it evolves.”
Woodgrain Millwork, Fruitland’s largest private employer, has acquired two Boise Cascade sawmills and a particleboard facility in eastern Oregon.
Woodgrain took over operations Nov. 5 of the Boise Cascade sawmills in Pilot Rock and La Grande and the particleboard operations in Island City, all in Union and Umatilla counties.
The sale, for an undisclosed amount, comes in a period where Boise Cascade is shifting more to veneer-based engineered wood products and plywood, while Woodgrain seeks to produce more of the lumber it uses in manufacturing doors, moldings and windows.
“Boise Cascade knew about our interest in the lumber side of the business,” said Tanner Dame, marketing director of the Dame family-owned business.
Founded in 1954, Woodgrain acquired its first sawmill just two years ago, another former Boise Cascade facility in Emmett that had been shuttered for about 10 years.
“It’s a new enterprise for us as we diversify,” Dame said in a phone interview.
Diversification has been a theme for Woodgrain in 2018 as the company in September expanded into plastic coated lumber production with the acquisition of EcoForm in North Palm Springs, California, and Woodguard of Cottage Grove, Oregon.
“I am excited about the acquisition of these three facilities (in eastern Oregon) as they align well with our strategy of growth through vertical integration,” Woodgrain CEO Kelly Dame said in a news release.
Woodgrain inherits 250 employees at the three eastern Oregon facilities, a significant increase for a company with 2,500 total employees at 21 mills, storage and manufacturing locations around the country and in Chile, with 400 employees in Fruitland, nearly 300 in Nampa and 70 in Emmett.
“It’s the stabilization of our supply chain,” Tanner Dame said about the sawmills. “It helps us control our costs.”
The Boise Cascade sale also caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.
“I am pleased that Woodgrain will continue operating these mills in Union and Umatilla counties because these facilities retain jobs and support rural infrastructure by processing materials from overstocked national forests,” Wyden said in a news release.
Woodgrain is still evaluating whether the new sawmills will increase production of finished products, Tanner Dame said.
“We can increase our capacity with a larger lumber supply,” he said. “The bigger consideration is the integration of our supply chain.”
Boise Cascade owned the La Grande sawmill and Island City particleboard operations for more than 50 years. Boise Cascade owned the Pilot Rock sawmill only nine years, but the former Kinzua Lumber mill was originally built in 1940 by Pilot Rock Lumber Co., Boise Cascade spokeswoman Lisa Chapman said.
“We are one of the largest manufacturers of engineered wood products and plywood in North America, and we are committed to these core businesses,” Chapman said in explaining the sale of the lumber mills.
Boise Cascade still has 10 sawmills in the Pacific Northwest, seven in the southeast and one in St. Jacques, New Brunswick, Canada.
La Grande, Oregon,-based Barreto Manufacturing has purchased the 145,000-square-foot former mill site in Horseshoe Bend that Boise Cascade shut down in 1998.
The purchase for an undisclosed amount closed Aug. 23. The 40-acre property includes two manufacturing buildings adding up to 112,000 square feet and two covered storage spaces totaling 33,000 square feet.
Barreto initially plans to use about 30,000 square feet of the largest structure for storage with plans to retain existing tenants: the GR Peterson Enterprises machine shop and American Reserve Munitions ammunition loading company, said Luke Barreto, Barreto’s Boise-based director of research and development and engineering.
About 65,000 square feet of the plant is occupied, he said.
Barreto Manufacturing manufactures all-hydraulic walk-behind tillers, trenchers and tree service equipment. Barreto has its primary operations in 130,000 square feet in five buildings at the La Grande/Union County Airport in Oregon with two other machining and welding buildings in La Grande.
The LaGrande operation will remain in place, but Barreto anticipates opening a second manufacturing facility in Horseshoe Bend, though not for “at least a year or two.”
“Much of this winter and next year will be used for storage and distribution of equipment, as well as making improvements to the building and property to prepare for our manufacturing uses,” Barreto said.
The delay is caused by the need to build a powder coating painting facility, he said.
The city is anticipating the 25 to 50 jobs the powder coating facility will create, said Gina Elmer, Horseshoe Bend’s city clerk.
“They will make the property look a lot nicer and develop more of the property,” Elmer said.
The property is split in 18- and 22-acre parcels, with the Boise Cascade structures on the smaller. The larger parcel sits along Highway 55. Prior owners put in infrastructure for commercial development but never followed through with construction.
“Right now we’re in limbo,” Barreto said about the 22 acres. “Mostly, we’re interested in selling it or building buildings and leasing them.”
Luke Barreto is the son of Greg and Chris Barreto, who established Barreto Manufacturing in 1984 with what the company describes as the “industry’s first all-hydraulic tiller.” Greg Barreto is also a representative in the Oregon Legislature.
Most of the Barreto equipment is sold to the rental market. The Home Depot is one of the company’s larger clients. Luke Barreto said the equipment is popular in Australia and sells widely across the U.S. and Europe.
“Our major need is for storage,” Barreto said. “Over the winter, we have to stock up on product. Over the last 10 years, we have experienced a lot of growth. “
Barreto will start storing product and shipping it from Horseshoe Bend in spring.
Greg Barreto had eyes on two former Boise Cascade plants in Horseshoe Bend and the 232,693-square-foot plant in Emmett that also recently sold.
“We’ve been looking at this for about a year,” Luke Barreto said. “We were looking in Boise itself. It’s a bit expensive. My dad has always liked the Emmett Boise Cascade facility. It was a much larger facility. In February-March, we started looking at this building (in Horseshoe Bend). We decided to go forward with it.”
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