What are Intellectual Property Laws?
Intellectual Property Laws
The term “intellectual property” covers a broad range of creations that include inventions, processes, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, and others. Intellectual property represents highly valuable personal or corporate assets that you or your company own and also prevents others from using without your permission.
As you might expect, a whole body of U.S. laws apply to intellectual property and, in general, takes one of the following forms:
- Copyright law
- Patent law
- Trademark law
- Trade secret law
The United States Copyright Office issues copyrights. You or your company can obtain a copyright on any “original works of authorship,” such as one of the following:
- Writings (books, articles, poetry, etc.)
- Pictures (photographs, videos, movies, etc.)
- Music (compositions, arrangements, performances, etc.)
- Art (paintings, sculptures, prints, ceramics, etc.)
- Computer code and apps
- Architectural renderings and drawings
The United States Patent and Trademark Office issues patents. You or your company can obtain a patent on any “invent[ion] or discover[y] [of] any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.”
Patentable machines and objects have the following characteristics:
- Their subject matter is patentable.
- They are novel inventions.
- They have a usefulness or utility.
- They are not obvious.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office likewise grants trademarks. You or your company can obtain a trademark on any “word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
Generally, you or your company trademarks one or more words, phrases, images or slogans you want to remain associated with your product or company only. However, you can trademark other things as well, including a special shape (think of Coca Cola bottles and glassware) or a special font (think of the font used for all Campbell’s soup and other products).
No regulatory agency confers trade secret status on a company’s confidential information. Instead, each company must determine for itself what constitutes one of its trade secrets. It must be something of such importance that it gives the company a competitive edge, such as one of the following:
- A secret formula
- A particular production process
- A particular sales or distribution method
- A particular advertising campaign
- A customer list
- A vendor list
The company must then take steps to protect its trade secrets, such as by revealing them to employees on a need-to-know basis, requiring employees and suppliers to sign nondisclosure agreements and referring to the information as a trade secret in all company contracts and other legal documents.
If an individual or other company reproduces, sells or otherwise uses or reveals your intellectual property without your permission, you can hire an intellectual property lawyer and sue that person or entity for infringement. If you would like to speak with a patent lawyer, can assist you.