The law tends to be quite clear-cut when it comes to physical property ownership, but questions can arise when discussing the creative process and intellectual properties. There are three main types of intellectual property laws that protect the originator’s civil rights: copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Since the logistics of trademark, copyright and patent law can be complex, you’ll want to know the basics for each type before considering pursuing patent litigation or any other type of case.
Copyrights apply to works of art: anything from operas to photographs are automatically protected under copyright law from the moment of creation. However, many artists choose to register their pieces to provide further protection from infringement. Artists who create work with a wide appeal are at a higher risk for copyright infringement, since offenders are more likely to steal art they feel will be highly profitable. However, if you don’t register your art and you find it’s been stolen, your options for compensation are limited to the infringer’s profits; conversely, if you have registered your art prior to the plagiarism, you are entitled to what’s referred to as “statutory damages” up to $150,000 per infringement, plus litigation and attorney’s fees. Note that copyrights do not cover ideas or thoughts, but apply only to how they are expressed through art.
Patents typically apply to inventions; they give the inventor an exclusive license for their product, and they ensure that a registered invention is not made or sold by anyone else within a certain period of time. There are three types of patents: utility patents (which cover things like technology and machines), design patents (which protect the one-of-a-kind layout of an object), and plant patents (which protect hybrid plant varieties and the way they’re produced). Unlike copyright, inventions are not automatically protected, and the creator must apply for a license. The invention in question must be deemed as original and useful in order to obtain patent protection. The patent application process can be long and complex, so an intellectual property attorney can help with the process and explain the particulars of license agreements.
Of the three types of intellectual property laws, people are probably the most familiar with this type. Trademark law protects the distinguishable names, phrases and logos that companies use for their business and products. It’s essentially a way to protect brand identity and prevent consumer confusion. Unlike patents, trademarks fall under assumed law; once companies start using identifiable marks, they can use the TM symbol without having to register their name or logo. However, companies can register their identifying marks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for increased protection.
Even the types of intellectual properties protected by law can contain complexities. If you have further questions, or believe you may need to file an intellectual property case, contact an experienced mediator or attorney.