The rationale behind offering legal protection to “intellectual property” is simple: to encourage people to engage in creative works by making sure the creator is able to both maintain control over and profit from their creations. Almost any original creative idea is eligible for some type of legal protection, whether copyright, patent or trademark.
The primary legal authority for the protection of intellectual property is found in Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. This section authorizes Congress to award inventors and authors absolute rights to their works. Additionally, Section 8 authorizes Congress legislate and regulate intrastate and overseas commerce. Two governmental agencies primarily administer and enforce the intellectual property laws in the United States: the United States Copyright Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Patent laws grant inventors the exclusive right to either personally sell their product in the marketplace or earn profits by transferring this right to a third party. Once you procure a patent, it initially stays valid for 20 years but can be renewed for additional terms under the proper circumstances. Patent protection applies to items such as technological upgrades, new equipment, and other original manufactured products and has the goal of safeguarding the product against unauthorized misappropriation or use by others. It should be noted, however, that patent protection cannot be applied to products that have no intrinsic value or are considered morally offensive.
Trademark laws protect the ownership of names, slogans, and symbols. Trademarks are specifically designed to help customers identify the source of goods and services, and to provide protection against misleading advertising. Once the owner of a mark procures formal registration through the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the rights can again be periodically renewed to ensure continued protection.
Copyright laws primarily protect music, architecture, motion pictures, books, and other original written works. Copyrights only apply to ideas or theories that are captured in a tangible medium. While federal registration adds a greater layer of protection, common law copyright protection occurs automatically upon the production of a creative work and often can even apply to works that are unpublished. Copyrights generally remain valid throughout the creator’s lifetime and continue for 70 years after his or her death.
Owners of intellectual property can avoid infringement or unauthorized use of their creations by providing visible notice of registered status. This further strengthens the owner’s position to file a complaint in the court in the event of infringements. Inventors can provide notice of registration by including their product’s patent number on their product labels. If the product is in a “patent pending” state, then the same can be mentioned on product labels to discourage others from engaging in intellectual property theft before the patent is awarded. Owners can use symbols such as ® or © on their product labels after formal registration.
Consideration and protection of intellectual property should be a part of every business plan. If you believe your intellectual property rights are being infringed upon, then it is crucial to consult an experienced intellectual property attorney to determine the best course of action.
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