Intelsexual property — an interview with a sex-tech attorney

S x Tech conference will take a place on July 1, 2019 in Berlin. It will be the very first event that connects the deep-tech with the sex tech industry. I had the pleasure to talk to one of the event speakers and mentors, Maxine Lynn, a sex- tech lawyer and sex tech blogger at Unzipped Media

How did Unzipped Media came about?

I was invited to a home sex toy party several years ago, which was basically my first exposure to sex toys I had been practicing patent and technology law already for many years at that time. As I looked through the toy catalog, I saw so much room for innovation. Since then, the industry has come a long way, and the technology has blossomed. I started Unzipped Media to merge my two passions — law and then newly, sex tech! Through the company, I publish the “Unzipped: Sex, Tech & the Law”® blog and the “Sex Tech Patent IndeXXX”® bulletin. I have also recently started producing and hosting the “Unzipped: The Business of Sex”® podcast. Through these various avenues, I explore the intersections of sex, tech, law, and business!

So how did you become the sex-tech lawyer?

I started with my blog, running head first into issues that no one was really talking about. Through my articles, I explained the importance and basics of patents, trademarks, and copyrights as they apply to sex tech. I wrote about major patent disputes in the adult industry (the “teledildonics patent”, the C-shaped vibrator patent, etc.), as well as censorship issues in the registration of trademarks (government prohibiting registration of sexually-explicit marks, which is now heading to the U.S. Supreme Court). My articles have been published in magazines all over the world, and I have spoken at conferences throughout North America. I have tried to educate not just my clients, but the industry as a whole. The more knowledge each company has, the better they can help themselves, and in many cases, help each other to become successful.

How would you describe the sex tech revolution? Is it needed?

It is the convergence of human sexuality and technology. Modern technology has changed so many parts of our lives from how we catch a taxi to how we set an alarm clock. Innovation makes technology better and more accessible, and is supposed to make life better. Along those lines, the sex tech revolution is improving people’s lives in a multitude of ways. From making it easier and more enjoyable for women to orgasm to helping the disabled experience sex, the revolution is dramatically shifting the way we have, and think about, sex and sexuality.

What have your experiences been like as a female in technology? Especially one that searches into sexuality?

I truly enjoy being a female in technology. We are still the minority as compared to men. It’s interesting to bring a new perspective, or at least a different one, to the discussion. I also pride myself in “living my work.” I consider it part of my work to show that you can be intelligent (and tech-oriented), as well as sexual. I live my life as I choose, rather than how society or someone else tells me I should. I get such joy out of having open discussions about sex on my podcast, as well as throwing in a sexy joke here and there in my blog articles, which especially, as a female, would have been shocking just a decade ago.

What has been your favorite sex tech-related topic so far?

I am fascinated by the issue of sex robots. The robots are “cumming” — Almost literally. Right now, the potential effects of sex robot technology are mainly just speculation. However, as the technology becomes more realistic and “smart” with artificial intelligence, what will really happen? Will people choose to have relationships with robots over humans? I mean, I can see why — No arguments, no divorce, no chance of unexpected pregnancy or STIs… And if people do make that choice, will it, in fact, be good for them, for example in giving an intimacy option to people who might not otherwise be able to be in a relationship with another person for various reasons. Or, will it drive people apart since, in some ways, a traditional relationship could become “obsolete.” It’s going to be a new world either way…

You have been advising for many of the porn, sex toy, and adult social networking industries in connection with the law. What are the most-often-expected traps for sex tech startups?

From a legal perspective, I think a lack of understanding of intellectual property protection is a major trap. Forgetting to file, or choosing not to file, for patent, trademark, or copyright protection can lead to disastrous results. For example, deciding not to protect novel sex toy technology via a patent means that other third parties can freely copy the invention. If a company does not trademark its brand names, a third party could file first and swap away rights to the names. Although there are processes for “righting that wrong,” they are long, expensive, and uncertain. Similarly, putting out a porn video without filing for a copyright registration can mean significantly lower damages in the case that it is pirated. As I always say, a little time with a lawyer can go a long way. Sex tech start-ups should be savvy, and set themselves up for success from the beginning.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I love helping sex tech start-ups get off the ground. My clients and I consider myself as part of their team. It’s extremely rewarding when they are not just happy with my work, but that such works helps them to become successful in the marketplace. The world needs more sex tech, and to start any business, especially one relating to sex, a company needs good legal counseling. It’s a pleasure (pun intended) to have an integral role in the future of the industry.

You are not a typical lawyer. What would surprise people most about your job?

Well, many people assume I get to sit at my desk and watch porn all day, which is not actually the case. While sometimes that’s true, for example, if there is a copyright dispute relating to a porn movie; most of the time, it’s simply hard work. My job is very interesting and fun, but requires a lot of skill and experience to get things done right. I help my clients navigate not only tech and intellectual property law, but also laws like FOSTA-SESTA and other censorship issues around the globe. It can be a mine field. The issues I deal with day-to-day at my job far transcends what most people outside of the industry would imagine. I love it though — It keeps me on my toes… Good thing I like high heels!

You gonna speak and advice during S x tech conference in Berlin. In this project, we focus a lot on female creators and founders. What do you think about the gender proportions at the management level in the world of sex tech?

It looks to me like it’s improving. There are a lot of new female-owned companies in the space, which are making waves. It will take many years to fully balance out, but the industry is certainly heading in the right direction. Hopefully, over time, the industry will have players with strong voices of all genders, colors, sexual identities, and viewpoints.

We’re in a political climate that forces us to regularly confront sex tech industry with huge censorship and blocks in public or social media life. How FOSTA-SESTA law impacted the industry?

On April 11, 2018, the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” was signed into U.S. law by President Donald Trump. This was a bi-partisan attempt to provide federal and state authorities with more tools to fight, as the law recites, “sexual exploitation of children or sex trafficking.” Though stopping sexual exploitation is certainly an honorable cause, the new law, known in short by the acronym “FOSTA,” has actually created big problems for legitimate websites, while in reality, also increasing the difficulty of finding and prosecuting human trafficking. The practical effect of the law is that providers of websites that allow users to post or communicate with one another now have to review and censor user communications and posts for possible prostitution or human trafficking. If human trafficking or prostitution is found to be “facilitated” by the site — including through no direct action by the site, but instead by users via communication on the site — the site owner/operator can be held criminally and civilly liable. As you can imagine, with such a heavy burden and looming uncertainty, many adult-oriented websites shuttered basically overnight. Others have had to adjust their terms of use, and monitoring practices. In addition, evidence of human trafficking, which previously could have been obtained from offenders’ online actions, is now not available since trafficking operations have moved offline and “underground,” making it much more difficult for law enforcement to fight. The law is currently being challenged through the court system. The case was initially dismissed based on a formality (rather than on the merits), and is now being appealed.

S x tech conference. The only conference where deep tech connects with the Internet of (Sex!) Things! — Don’t lose your chance and register NOW

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