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Earlier this year, a man tried to pass himself off as a San Francisco building inspector. He prominently displayed the logo and address of the city’s Department of Building Inspections on his Web site, which included a description of the city’s code process and the procedure to get a building permit. When the city attorney’s office found out about the site, it sent a cease and desist letter, and the would-be inspector promptly deleted the department identifiers. The city attorney’s office has been handling such issues since 1996, when it assigned a deputy attorney to track IP matters. Three of the 190 lawyers in the office now spend a significant part of their time working with the Contracts and IP team. “Like any corporation, we are interested in protecting and licensing our IP,” said attorney Adine Varah, the IP point person in the office. The office also wants to “protect the public from being misled or confused about the source of goods and services.” The city’s IP attorneys register trademarks and negotiate licensing agreements for the use of city logos such as the Muni symbol. Varah said she doesn’t know how many trademark applications the office has filed. While the office hasn’t prosecuted any patent applications, it does handle patent issues involving the inventions of city employees. For instance, attorneys have licensed a dynamic mapping system created by the Department of Public Works to private, nonprofit groups. Before becoming a deputy city attorney, Varah was a staff attorney at Yale University, where she also handled IP matters. Her clients now include the San Francisco Arts Commission, the War Memorial Board of Trustees and the Asian Art Museum. The arts commission sponsors a writers program for youth in the city, and Varah’s office puts together agreements for publication and use of their poems and other writings. “There’s a strong public interest component to the work we do,” Varah said. Intellectual property is “an important city asset — like city property or funds in the treasury.”

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