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 The act of creation itself produces a copyright and unpublished works are still protected.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.
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
- Questions and Answers about the New Federal Trade Secrets ActDoes your work involve trade secrets? If it does—or even if you’re not sure—there’s some new legislation that you should know about: the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”), which was recently signed into law by President Obama. Here’s some information about the act and how it may affect you.
- How to Protect Your IP with a Non-Disclosure AgreementThe employment landscape has changed over the last few years and many small and mid-size companies today operate with outside help – contractors or freelancers who perform important tasks but who are not full time employees on your payroll, or even third party companies who consult on a new product or service.
- The Importance of Intellectual Property Protection in FashionMore than many other industries, fashion thrives on the ideas, concepts, designs, and other creative contributions of its personnel.
- You Can Stop Trademark InfringementYou have gone through the painstaking process of starting a business, developing a brand for your business, namely, your business’ trademark, invested significant time and resources into this development, and suddenly you discover another business is using your exact trademark or a similar one. What can you do?
- Music May Be Less Widely Available in the Future. Here's Why.The government just denied a request from the music industry to change the royalty collection system. Here, we examine what's at stake and explain why change may be imminent.
- What Is Fashion Law?While the worlds of law and fashion may seem as far apart as one can imagine, legal matters are inseparable from any career or aspirations in the fashion industry. To understand why fashion law is so important, one must start with what it is and why it should matter to you.
- Google Books Is Legal, Making Information FreeAfter years of litigation, the Supreme Court let stand a ruling that Google Books makes fair use of others' copyrights. What does that mean for you?
- Alcohol, Language, and the LawLegal disputes have become increasingly common among breweries and distilleries. Companies are litigating not only over trademark confusion, but also the meanings of words like "craft" and "handmade." The outcome of some of these suits may have wider implications, impacting how certain beverages are labeled.
- Social Media with a Side of LitigationAs social media continues to become further ingrained in our daily lives, businesses and individuals should consider its potential role in litigation - particularly intellectual property-related matters. Here, a few examples of lawsuits and potential lawsuits that have arisen specifically due to social media sharing.
- The "Blurred Lines" of Copyright LawWhen a jury found that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams' hit song "Blurred Lines" infringed Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give it Up," the world was shocked, and the music industry panicked. Here, we explain why the year Gaye's song came out was a major factor in outcome - and why, if it had been written only a short time later, the verdict may have been different.
- 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
- ABA - Intellectual Property Law Section
- American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA)
The American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) is a 16,000 member, national bar association constituted primarily of intellectual property lawyers in private & corporate practice, in government service, and in the academic community.
- Intellectual Property Law Server
- Office of the Administrator for External Affairs (EA) - IP Enforcement and Policy
The USPTO leads efforts to develop and strengthen both domestic and international property protection and advises the Secretary of Commerce, the President of the United States, and the Administration on patent, trademark, copyright, and copyright protection.
- Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR)
USTR's Office of Intellectual Property and Innovation (IPN) uses a wide range of bilateral and multilateral trade tools to promote strong intellectual property laws and effective enforcement worldwide, reflecting the importance of intellectual property and innovation to the future growth of the U.S. economy.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
- USDOJ - Intellectual Property Task Force