What is Intellectual Property?
In general, property law defines rights of ownership to objects, which
can be either tangible or intangible. Intellectual property law governs
ownership rights to intangible creations of the mind.
Types of Intellectual Property Protection
The law encourages creativity and invention by rewarding creators with
protected rights and limited exclusivity. But as a policy consideration,
knowledge and designs should eventually be made available for public use.
Patents offer reciprocity for inventors and the general public, providing
a limited statutory right of exclusive use in exchange for public disclosure.
Under the statutory language of 35 U.S.C. § 101, patents are expressly
limited to protecting a "new and useful process, machine, manufacture,
or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof."
Patents, then, do not protect general ideas or abstract concepts.
There are three major types of patents:
Utility patents are the most common type, and protect the process or function of an invention.
These patents have a 20 year term.
Design patents protect "any new, original and ornamental design for an article of
manufacture." Design patents have a 14 year term.
Plant patents give creators protection for "asexually reproduc[ing] any distinct
and new variety of plant, including cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids,
and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant
found in an uncultivated state." Plant patents last for 17 years.
Trademarks, Service Marks, and Trade Dress
Trademarks include any "word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof"
used by a person or business in commerce. Trademarks are used to distinguish
products in a given market, and owners enjoy protection of their trademark
in connection with goods upon which the mark is used; trademarks are not
protected against use with other goods.
Service marks, likewise, include any "word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination
thereof" used in commerce to distinguish services in a given market.
The law does not treat service marks and trademarks differently.
Collective marks are a specific type of trademark used by the members of a cooperative,
group, or organization to indicate membership.
Trade dress refers to the appearance or packaging of a product, which can include
the shape, size, and color.
Copyright protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible
medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can
be perceived or reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly
or with the aid of a machine or device." This right automatically
attaches to works once they have been fixed in a tangible medium; the
ownership of the work vests with the author(s). Works protected include,
but are not limited to, literary works, music, dramatic works, pantomimes
and choreography; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; motion pictures
and other audio visual works; sound recordings; and architectural works.
Compilations or collections, in which existing work is organized in such
a way as to create an original work of authorship, are also protected.
Copyright protect particular expressions in a tangible medium, not the
underlying ideas, principles, or concepts conveyed by them.
Assignments and Licensing
Assigning intellectual property means that the title to that property is transferred.
Most of the time, the assignor must transfer all of the rights to an assignee,
although copyrighted property can be an exception. If the assignment does
not transfer the total interest, then it may be considered a license.
license, by contrast, is the grant of permission from the licensor to the licensee
to use property with limited rights. Licensing property does not transfer
title, but does grant the licensee certain rights, usually for a fee or royalty.
Why Protecting Intellectual Property is Important
A strong and comprehensive IP portfolio goes a long way in ensuring a company
a fighting chance in a competitive market. Patents help protect and incentivize
innovation, which gives companies a competitive advantage as they enjoy
exclusive use of their designs. Trademarks and the like help to identify
and distinguish a product, which over time creates brand recognition as
valuable any technical design or device, often even more so. Associating
a quality product with a distinguishable label and appearance can lead
to a point where putting that mark on any product instantly signifies
quality. The owners must protect that mark's prestige from being used
with substandard goods. The ability to assign/license either of these
types of intellectual property creates more possibilities with mergers
and partnerships that can strengthen businesses.
Copyright protection ensures works will be protected, and their authors
properly recognized and rewarded. The protection of an author's rights
is imperative to promoting creativity, and ultimately safeguarding ability
to commercialize that creativity.
Call us. Howard IP Law Group, P.C. can help you identify value of IP you
own and how to protect it. We can work through the facts and questions
with you and point out pitfalls, saving you time, money and headaches.
Together we can craft an approach tailored to your situation and plans.
Please note that the content of this page should only be used as a general
reference, and is not a substitute for legal advice. It is recommended
that you seek the assistance of legal counsel.