Intellectual property may be a confusing concept when first trying to understand the importance of its legal protection. This is not necessarily a tangible item or a concrete object. Intellectual property may be an idea, a word, or creative works. Trademarks, patents, and copyright are all forms of protection of intellectual property, but what exactly are these forms of legal protection? What does each type of intellectual property-protection cover and which one is right for you? Let’s provide some insight into each of these aspects of the law.
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies a company or its product and distinguishes it from other companies or similar products. Similarly, a service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies the source of a service, not a product. The generic term “trademark” usually encompasses both meanings. The purpose behind trademark law is to protect both the producers and consumers by preventing source confusion. It is not mandatory to register a trademark though it is advisable for several reasons. First, it provides a nationwide notice that the owner has claimed the trademark. Next, it proves ownership; no one else can use the trademark once officially registered and the registration deters others from adopting a similar trademark. Finally, it makes it easier to obtain trademark registration in foreign countries should it go global. Examples of trademarks are McDonald’s golden arches, UPS brown for shipping services, and the NBC chime. Notorious names that are well-associated with certain products and a specific level of quality are also trademarked as is the case with Coco Chanel.
A patent is a property right granted at the federal level to an inventor that precludes others from making, using, or selling the invention without permission from the owner of the patent. Patents are good for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted. Not everything can be patented. Items that may be patented include: processes, machines, articles of manufacture, composition of matter, ornamental design, and asexually reproduced plants by design. Things that cannot be patented include: laws of nature, physical phenomena, abstract ideas, works of art, inventions which are not useful or inventions that are offensive to public morality.
A patent is typically good for twenty years. One category of patents include drugs in the pharmaceutical industry. These drugs are protected for a specific period of time and are manufactured and sold by a specific company. Once the patent expires the drug is no longer exclusive to this manufacturer and other companies can make and profit from their own generic version of the same drug.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. This means that literary, dramatic, and musical works, poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture may all be copyright protected. Copyrights do not apply to ideas, facts, systems, or methods of operation. Copyrights differ from patents in that the creative work is automatically protected the moment it comes into existence in a physical form. Similar to trademarks, copyrights do not have to be registered though here too, it is advisable to do so. You may not sue another for Copyright infringement unless you have a federal registration. It puts notice on public record that the work is owned by you. The work is eligible for enhanced damages if a case involving the copyrighted work goes to litigation.
Now that you have a better understanding of what each of these legal protections are and what they cover you can decide which is best in your situation. If you need to know more about intellectual property law and how to protect your best creations, I offer legal assistance in all of these areas and can guide you in taking the right steps. I represent businesses and individuals before State and Federal courts in New York and New Jersey, and before the US Patent and Trademark Office. Call today to learn more: 718-246-8482 and see https://jhrlegal.com/intellectual-property-law/