The rules for obtaining and implementing legal rights to inventions, designs, and artistic works are addressed in intellectual property law. It also preserves the exclusive possession of intangible assets, much as the law protects personal property and real estate ownership. These laws aim to provide people with an opportunity to produce innovative works that benefit society by ensuring that they can benefit from their works without fear of others being misappropriated.
Types of Intellectual Property
- Patents: Patents grant inventors the right, by passing the right to someone else, to use their invention on the market or to benefit. Patent rights are available for up to 20 years, depending on the kind of invention. Qualifying products, including the “look” of a product, include new machines, technical advances, and manufactured goods. If an invention is considered to be obvious in design, not useful, or morally objectionable, patent rights will be refused.
- Trademark: Symbols, names, and slogans used to distinguish products and services are protected by trademarks. The goal is to prevent misunderstanding, discourage deceptive ads, and help customers discern one brand from another. Since the purpose is to differentiate, generic or strictly descriptive marks can not qualify. Rights can theoretically last forever, and by merely using a label, they are gained. Although not required, owners can, for additional protection, register their marks.
- Copyrights: Writing, music, motion pictures, design, and other original intellectual and artistic expressions are protected by copyright. For ideas or thoughts, or something that has not been captured in a fixed medium, protection is not available. The act of creation itself creates copyright, and unpublished works are still protected. It is normal, but not mandatory, to use a copyright symbol and date. For the author’s lifetime, plus seventy years, most copyrights remain valid.
- Trade Secrets: A trade secret is identified as the knowledge that derives independent economic value because it is not widely understood or readily verifiable and targets secrecy efforts. Trade secrets are not licensed with a government body, unlike copyrights, patents, and trademarks. However, they can represent the most important intellectual property assets of a business in certain situations.
Infringement applies to the use of intellectual property that is not allowed. Owners should take action to put the world on notice that their rights exist to defend against infringement. Providing notice helps avoid infringement by making the owner’s rights clearer to those who can unintentionally abuse them. It also causes further legal advantages and, if it becomes necessary, places the owner in a stronger position to pursue an infringement in court.
By labelling their product with the patent number given to it by the Patent and Trademark Office, inventors may provide notice of their rights. It is also possible to use the mark ‘patent pending’ to prevent anyone from copying the design before the patent is granted. Notice of trademarks and copyrights is granted by putting on the content the required symbol (TM, ©, etc.) and then registering the trademark or copyright to be added to the government’s database.
If infringement happens, intellectual property rights can be enforced in federal court. However, owners may want to consult with an attorney before filing a case and carefully consider whether litigation is in their best interests. Infringement lawsuits are costly to prosecute, and there is often a possibility that the rights of the owner will be exposed as null or less extensive than the owner believed until held up to the scrutiny of a court hearing.