Trademarks, Copyrights, & Other IP
Intellectual property refers to certain products of the mind that you can protect and defend through legal avenues. In today’s information age, the value of intangible property like intellectual property has skyrocketed. One completed product, like a smartphone, could involve the use of thousands of patents alone. Many Fortune 500 companies today derive significant value from information, brand reputation, and trade secrets alone.
There are several different types of intellectual property that an attorney can assist in protecting. The most common types include:
A trademark is a form of intellectual property designed to protect words, phrases, symbols, or designs that identify the source of goods or services and are used to help distinguish them from those provided by others.
There are two types of trademarks that an individual or organization can protect: design marks and word marks.
Word marks often involve broader protections and protect the actual words and characters submitted. Design marks, while narrower in application, are often stronger and more distinct and thus easier to defend against use by competitors.
For example, if you started a company called “Zeus Electrical” providing electrician services with a large, horizontal lightning bolt incorporated into the logo, the words “Zeus Electrical” may be part of a word mark whereas the logo with the text, font, and horizontal lightning bolt would be part of a design mark. The “Zeus Electrical” word mark might then help prevent a competitor from subsequently starting or expanding “Zeus Electrician Services” and the design mark may prevent the competitor from using a very similar font and horizontal lightning bolt design.
Copyright is a form intellectual property protected by the United States Constitution for “works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Common forms include literary and musical works, but also movies, sculptures, plays, and even architecture. An area that federal courts grapple with is how and to what extent software code can be protected as “literary works.”
One major mistake a copyright holder can make is believing they are automatically protected from copyright infringement because of the United States Constitution. The right to take affirmative legal action for infringement can only be exercised if you properly register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Therefore, obtaining legal assistance to properly file with the U.S. Copyright Office is vital to conserving the value of your rights and your work.
The United States is part of the Berne Convention. The Berne Convention is an international treaty that prohibits the requirement of certain formalities like registration for copyright protection internationally. It also leveled the field for citizens of member countries seeking copyright protection or enforcement in other countries, treating them at least the same as citizens of that country. This serves to facilitate the protection and enforcement of copyrighted works in these countries; for example, if you create a cartoon character and a company in Russia copies that character and begins to market and sell a product with that character on it, this treaty may allow you to bring an action in court to stop that company from its use. Copyrights should nevertheless be registered for international enforcement and protection because it can also serve as support to prove that you are the original maker/owner.
At Easler Law, we can help you register your copyright, provide contractual agreements to grant permission for others to use your copyright (i.e., license), and manage your copyright activities.
Patents protect inventions and discoveries. The idea of a patent is to allow individuals and organizations to invest time and money in discovering and inventing solutions to the world’s problems—both big and small—without the worry that someone else will steal their solution and get away with it. However, a patent merely grants the inventor a right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling, or importing the invention, and thus is only the first step in a larger process to protect the value of your invention.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for examining all United States patent applications and issuing patents. The USPTO categorizes each patent into three broad types: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. A utility patent may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or compositions, or any new useful improvement to an existing utility. A design patent, on the other hand, may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for manufacture. Finally, a plant patent may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plants.
Before applying for any patent, a patent search must be conducted to determine whether there is novelty in your invention. Patent protection can last anywhere between 14-20 years, and require continual maintenance fees.
Part of the objective in obtaining a patent, trademark, or copyright is to put the public on notice that this is your property and that anything that looks or acts too closely to it may be infringing on your property rights. But what if obtaining a patent, trademark, or copyright is impossible or making your work public would destroy its value? Trade secrets include valuable information like in-progress inventions not ready for a patent application, a secret process at the core of developing an exclusive product or service, or a secret ingredient. Rather than getting help through federal substantive law, trade secrets are typically protected under contract law.
Fortunately, The United States passed the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (“DTSA”). This Act allowed private lawsuits against people or companies that misappropriated or stole a trade secret. As a new law, many large corporations have already taken advantage of this act and it continues to be an avenue for victims of trade secret theft to recover. Understanding your rights and knowing what protections you have are key in planning to share, or keep secret, your intellectual property.
Why Choose Easler Law
Our intellectual property attorneys can assist with a variety of matters related to copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. We have extensive experience with a wide range of intellectual property issues such as filing copyrights and trademarks and protecting trade secrets. We work with a wide range of clients from technology startups, entrepreneurs, and freelancers to healthcare chains, international corporations, and public companies to protect their intellectual property.
 https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html (Last visited April 27, 2021).
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