In the modern world, intellectual property protection is becoming ever more important. We are constantly seeing headlines about billion dollar intellectual property disputes between tech giants like Google, Samsung and Apple. Most often, these articles jump right into the details that grab our attention and fail to explain what intellectual property is and how something intangible could be so valuable. So for those who aren’t well versed in intellectual property, here are some basics.
In the United States we generally discuss legal protection with respect to four types of intellectual property: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. The United States Patent and Trademark office gives the following descriptions for each type of intellectual property.
A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.
There are three types of patents. Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. Here is the process for obtaining a utility patent. Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
A trademark is a brand name. A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services. Although federal registration of a mark is not mandatory, it has several advantages, including notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration. Trade dress is also included under the area of trademark protection and extends protection to the aesthetic, non-functional, design elements of a business and can include the shape of a building, the layout or design of the interior space or other aesthetic aspects of a business.
A Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or recordings of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.
The copyright protects the form of the creative expression rather than the idea or subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine written in a book could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description in the book; it would not protect the machine or prevent others from writing their own description of the machine or from making and using the machine.
However, these may be protected with another form of intellectual property, i.e. a patent. Copyrights are registered with the Library of Congress.
Trade secrets consist of secret information and can include a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or process. In some cases, these can include customer lists. To meet the most common definition of a trade secret, it must be a secret and used in business. If it is not kept a secret then it most likely won’t be protectable as a trade secret. In addition, the trade secret should provide an economic advantage over competitors who do not know or use it.
How The Intellectual Property Center can help
The choice of which type of intellectual property protection to pursue can be complicated, and in some circumstances, you may desire a combination of copyright, patent, trademark and trade dress protection for your work. Moreover, depending on the nature of your business, multiple, overlapping forms of intellectual property protection may be advantageous.
Our experienced staff of attorneys has been assisting clients in intellectual property protection for years. We have helped clients acquire patents, trademarks, and copyrights and have advised others on how to manage their trade secrets. If you are in need on intellectual property protection or simply would like to know more about your options, please feel free to contact our office to schedule an initial consultation.