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 The act of creation itself produces a copyright and unpublished works are still protected.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.

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Know your Rights!

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Articles About Intellectual Property

  • Expert Witness Testimony on Similarity of Works in Copyright Infringement Claim
    Copyright infringement is a rampant crime in the age where technology rules over these matters, and the issues with copyrighted works being copied and distributed increases each year. However, the need for an expert witness arises when similar works are fashioned from the original that are similar enough to lead to infringement claims against the author.
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    Applying for a patent and then developing a strong application for the invention often requires an expert’s assistance, and this could lead to further costs when a patent lawyer has been hired. Many applicants that first start the process may require a portfolio with great value to get to the point where a patent application and then invention are considered strong.
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    When obtaining a trademark for a company, products or services, the costs may be extensive depending on how the owner decides to apply, and this could alter if he or she expands from one state to the nation or globally. Patents are equally expensive, and may be registered similarly through one location or around the entire world.
  • Estate Planning: What About the Intellectual Property?
    Despite good intentions, many people do not get serious about completing their estate planning and estate documents until late in life. Even when they do, they focus on which individuals will inherit the tangible assets – such as houses, land, money, jewelry, stock and other investments.
  • Can the Government Make You Keep Your Invention a Secret Without Compensating You?
    The government has suppressed many patents and other similar items in the name of national security, and this has created various problems for patent owners. However, knowing when the government is able to do so without compensating the owner is important, as there may be action that could be pursued when the process is not valid.
  • Patent Cooperation Treaty for International Patents
    International patents are complicated and take more time and energy than any single patent in the United States because often, the applicant must apply to each country individually. There are some nations that may be coupled together through the Patent Cooperation Treaty and similar programs, but this does not solve the issue for every location around the world.
  • Times When It Is Critical to Hire a Patent Lawyer
    Applying for a patent is a lengthy and costly process that often results in a rejection at least initially for the person seeking to make a commercial success of his or her invention. When rejection appears to be the only answer provided, it is crucial to hire a patent lawyer to help improve the process and seek a successful end result to applications.
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    When attempting to build a company or business through intellectual property, it is important to know if the invention or process should be initiated by the individual, sold or traded for possible better benefits in the future. It is also important to have a lawyer versed in these matters available to ensure the rights of the owner are protected throughout the procedure.
  • How to Select the Right Patent Lawyer
    A patent lawyer can help handle patent applications in order to try to get the patent approved and intellectual property protected. However, it is critical to the success of this process to choose the right patent lawyer. Some steps that can lead to this eventual success include:
  • How Do I Perform a Novelty Invention Search?
    A novelty search tries to determine if an invention or idea is new before the inventor takes the time and makes the investment of submitting a patent application. By conducting this process in a thorough manner, inventors can avoid putting too much time into an idea or concept that is not patentable.
  • 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




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