Forge Fair 2019 will be upon us before we know it (May 21-23 in Cleveland), and it may be a good time to consider some regulations and rules regarding trade shows.

Exhibiting in the U.S. is governed by a multitude of regulations and rules that dictate everything from the height of your exhibit to the volume of your in-booth music. Fortunately, many or all of these regulations are explained in one or more of the following places: the Forge Fair prospectus, a set of terms and conditions, a booth-space rental contract and/or an exhibitor services manual. Unfortunately, the sheer number of regulations – combined with the fact that they’re scattered across different documents – makes it easy to inadvertently miss regulations. The following listing is by no means exhaustive. However, it is intended to be a primer for exhibitors and includes many common regulations that are sometimes overlooked.

Beware of unscrupulous parties who may not actually exhibit at the trade show but act as though they do. Many of these non-exhibiting parties book hospitality suites or meeting space near the venue and invite registered attendees to off-site events. This practice is often called “outboarding,” and the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) has decried this practice to protect the interests of companies that rent exhibit space and conduct their off-site meetings approved by show management. Non-exhibitors that sell at a trade show are poaching buyers from the exhibitors who have paid for the opportunity to reach them. In order to curtail this practice, some show managers now reserve blocks of suites or meeting rooms at hotels near the show venue that can only be booked by exhibitors. As such, if a non-exhibiting company attempts to rent meeting or event space at any of those hotels, the venue can refuse their reservation.

Another serious offense, called “suitcasing,” occurs when attendees sell to exhibitors or other attendees within the exhibit hall but do not purchase an exhibit to do so. Typically, suitcasers approach people in the public areas of the show, such as registration and food-service areas, and hand out brochures or other marketing collateral. This is expressly prohibited at most shows since, again, these people are poaching attendees that exhibitors have paid to see. Consequences for suitcasing can include removal from the trade show or even long-term bans.

Remember that most booths are subject to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Exhibits are considered “public accommodations” and are subject to the requirements of the ADA. Most show managers include a section in their booth-space rental contracts stating the exhibitor understands that the ADA requires its exhibit be accessible to persons with disabilities and agrees that the exhibitor is solely responsible for assuring that its display complies with the ADA and its responsibilities to the physically, visually or hearing impaired.

In most cases, the booth-space rental contract and exhibitor services manual have a “confines of booth” clause requiring that all of your marketing and promotional activities must take place within the perimeter of the space you’ve rented. Do not plan on distributing literature in front of the venue or having the company mascot roam the exhibit hall passing out fliers. Waivers to this rule may be granted by trade-show management.

An increasing number of trade shows are requiring a certificate of insurance (COI) that proves comprehensive general liability coverage, not just from exhibitor-appointed contractors but also from the exhibiting company. You may be asked to name the following entities as additional insureds on the certificate: the show organizer, manager and show itself, the facility and the general services contractor.

If you plan on disclosing a new apparatus or invention at Forge Fair that you would like to protect through a patent, be aware that public disclosure of the invention starts a clock. In the U.S., an inventor has one year from the date of disclosure of an invention within which to file a patent application. However, the inventor also needs to be wary of two additional complications regarding disclosures of inventions.

First, if an American patent application is to be filed after disclosure at Forge Fair, subsequent disclosures by others describing similar features of an invention can become hurdles to patent protection. Second, the laws of many foreign countries require “absolute novelty” regarding the topics of patent applications. That is to say, inventions described in patent applications cannot have been disclosed at all. As such, disclosures of inventions in America can preclude later foreign patent applications. The best advice is to file a patent application prior to any disclosures at Forge Fair.


David Resser is a patent attorney with Cooper Legal Group LLC of Independence, Ohio. He has expertise as a mechanical engineer in foundry equipment manufacturing. He can be reached at