Intellectual Property Law




What is Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual property law deals with the rules for securing and enforcing legal rights to inventions, designs, and artistic works. Just as the law protects ownership of personal property and real estate, so too does it protect the exclusive control of intangible assets. The purpose of these laws is to give an incentive for people to develop creative works that benefit society, by ensuring they can profit from their works without fear of misappropriation by others.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress express authority to grant authors and inventors exclusive rights to their creations. Section 8 also gives Congress the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, providing further support for its right to legislate in this area. Intellectual property laws passed by Congress are administered by two government agencies, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the U.S. Copyright Office.

Patents give inventors the right to use their product in the marketplace, or to profit by transferring that right to someone else. Depending on the type of invention, patent rights are valid for up to 20 years. Qualifying items include new machines, technological improvements, and manufactured goods, including the “look” of a product. Patent protection will be denied if an invention is found to be obvious in design, not useful, or morally offensive.

Trademarks protect symbols, names, and slogans used to identify goods and services. The purpose is to avoid confusion, deter misleading advertising, and help consumers distinguish one brand from another. Since the goal is to distinguish, generic or purely descriptive marks may not qualify. Rights can potentially last forever, and they are obtained by simply using a mark. While not required, owners can register their marks for additional protection.

Copyrights apply to writings, music, motion pictures, architecture, and other original intellectual and artistic expressions. Protection is not available for theories or ideas, or anything that has not been captured in a fixed medium. The act of creation itself produces a copyright and unpublished works are still protected. Use of a copyright symbol and date is common, but not mandatory. Most copyrights are valid for the creator’s lifetime, plus 70 years.

Protecting Against Infringement

Infringement refers to the unauthorized use of intellectual property. To protect against infringement, owners should take steps to put the world on notice that their rights exist. Providing notice helps deter infringement by making the owner’s rights more visible to those who might inadvertently violate them. It also triggers additional legal benefits, and puts the owner in a better position to prosecute an infringement in court, if that becomes necessary.

Inventors can give notice of their rights by marking their product with the patent number assigned to it by the Patent and Trademark Office. The label “patent pending” can also be used to discourage others from copying the design before the patent is awarded. Notice of trademarks and copyrights is given by placing the appropriate symbol (™, ©, etc.) on the material, and then registering the mark or copyright, so it can be added to the government’s database.

If infringement does occur, rights to intellectual property can be enforced in federal court. Before filing a lawsuit, however, owners will want to consult with an attorney and carefully consider whether litigation is in their best interests. Infringement cases are expensive to prosecute, and there is always a risk that the owner’s rights, once held up to the scrutiny of a court proceeding, will be revealed as invalid or less extensive than the owner believed.

In the event an owner of intellectual property does sue, and the lawsuit is successful, a number of remedies will be available. The court can order an injunction, meaning the infringer must stop what it is doing. Substantial money damages may also be available. In addition, once the owner’s rights are established in court, the infringer may agree to a license agreement. This allows use of the intellectual property to continue, with payments going to the owner.

Rights to intellectual property can be incredibly lucrative, making individuals huge sums of money. Infringement claims have also bankrupted large, profitable companies without warning. With so much at stake, anyone dealing with issues in this area of the law should seek the advice of an attorney. Firms specializing in intellectual property law are available to help owners who are looking to establish, profit from, or defend their rights.

Get Help from an IP Attorney

If you have created or obtained the rights to something unique, an intellectual property attorney can help you protect your interests. Conversely, if someone has accused you of infringement, you want legal counsel to help you fight back. Contact an attorney today to learn more.

Copyright HG.org

Know your Rights!

  • Is it Illegal to Buy Counterfeit or Knockoff Designer Goods?

    To answer the question, it is first important to distinguish between a counterfeit and a knockoff product.

  • Protecting Trade Secrets: How to Draft a Nondisclosure Agreement

    Protecting your competitive advantage – your trade secrets – can be critical to growing your business. And, one of the best ways to do that is through the use of the nondisclosure agreement.

  • What is a Patent Troll?

    Many have read about legal battles fought between large technology companies and entities referred to as “patent trolls” and wondered, “what is a patent troll?” Obviously, it has something to do with patent laws and infringing on someone's patent rights, but what does it really mean? Who does it apply to? Is anyone who asserts a patent infringement a “troll,” or just certain people and entities? Where did the term come from?

  • What is Plagiarism?

    Plagiarism is usually defined as the "wrongful appropriation" of another's words, thoughts, ideas, or expressions and the misrepresentation that they are the representer's original work. Of course, with a definition that broad and vague, most any sort of researched work might be considered plagiarized. However, plagiarism is considered academic dishonesty, but is not a crime, per se.

Articles About Intellectual Property

  • Protecting Your Entrepreneurial Vision: Legal Steps
    Protecting the idea behind a possible revenue stream is often difficult in the electronic age with so much video recording, data capturing and access to email and websites so that the vision of someone’s idea may be stolen. Because of this, many have sought illegitimate and illegal ways of ensuring their creations and ideas are protected.
  • What Is a Utility Patent and What Does it Protect?
    Patents are legal ways of protecting an idea that is used to create and invention. It is the produced work that is guarded through the patent through the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This manner of protecting an invented item lasts from fourteen to twenty years in most circumstances.
  • Software Patents and Alice in the Looking Glass
    The public tends to believe the purpose of the Patent Office is to issue patents. The facts paint a different conclusion.
  • The Basics of Royalties and the Role Intellectual Property Plays
    One way that some businesses generate the funds that they need to launch and sustain their business is by using royalties. Investors consider the potential risk and return, making royalties a popular option to help minimize the risk. By preferring royalties over equity in a business, the investor can get back his or her investment faster in case having equity in the business represents too much risk.
  • Essential Clauses in a Founder’s Agreement
    When a new enterprise is launched, it is critical for the future success of the business for the founders to have a clear agreement in place. This agreement should focus on key issues that are critical to the ability of the founders to safeguard the future of the business and to raise money to support the business during its growing period. Clauses in an effective founder’s agreement should thoroughly discuss the following topics:
  • Is My Great Idea Original? Conducting an Effective Patent Search
    In today’s world, everyone is always looking for the next big thing or the newest technology that will revolutionize an industry. However, with so many people in the world, it’s possible that the latest idea may not be all that original. A person can take his or her place in line with a patent, but the patent process can be laborious and expensive. This is why it pays to conduct an effective patent search. Some of the steps involved in this process include:
  • How to Legally Protect Your Inventions and Ideas
    An idea can be worth a million dollars – to you or to your competitor – which is why it is important to take steps to protect your inventions and ideas.
  • Legal Ways to Sustain Your Brand’s Value
    In the business world, a brand is often one of the most important aspects a company has when being viewed and spoken about by consumers. The brand image should project certain ideals and concepts so that the public is aware of it, has respect for it and is drawn to the business through what is remembered about the image and knowledge of the company.
  • Difference in Domain Names, Trademarks and Business Entity Names
    When dealing with a company, creating a business or starting a venture that may accrue revenue, it is important to know what a domain name, trademark and entity name are and how they may be used.
  • Ways to Minimize Risk When Bringing a New Product to Market
    It is essential when creating a concept for a new product that will be placed on the market to minimize risks that may affect acquiring a licensing deal, securing financial assistance and possible growth with revenue that may occur through the sales of the item.
  • All Intellectual Property Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Intellectual Property including: copyright, domain names, licensing law, patents, trade secrets and trademark.

Intellectual Property Law - US

Intellectual Property Law by Country

Intellectual Property Law - International

Organizations Regarding Intellectual Property




Find a Lawyer

Find a Local Lawyer