What Is Intellectual Property?
What Is Intellectual Property?
The 4 Basic Forms of Intellectual Property
- Copyright: A copyright is an exclusive right held for a limited time by original works of authorship to reproduce, publicly perform, and publicly distribute copies of their work. In order to receive copyright protection, a work must be original, and it must be fixed in some tangible medium (written down, recorded, printed, etc.).
- Trademark: Trademark law protects consumers by empowering producers to prevent the use of their names and/or logos by others in manners that are likely to confuse consumers. This body of law only applies to words and images used to identify goods and services, or their source. Trademark rights can last forever, as long as the name or image is continuously used in commerce.
- Patent:Patent law protects inventors by granting them an exclusive right to manufacture and sell their inventions for a limited period of time, in exchange for public disclosure of their invention. To receive patent protection, an invention must be novel, useful, and non-obvious.
- Trade Secrets: Trade secret law protects secret information held by businesses, and allows them to sue when that information is stolen, or if it’s disclosed without their permission. To be protected by trade secret law, the information must actually be secret (not known to or easily ascertainable by the general public) and it must have independent economic value by being secret (this basically means that disclosing the secret would make the information far less valuable).
Who Should Be Concerned About IP Issues?
- Creative employees: workers whose job descriptions require them to make new creative works (writers, graphic designers, etc.) need to be aware of the fact that, generally, their employer owns the copyright on any works they produce in the scope of their employment. This rule does not apply to independent contractors. However, it is a good idea for independent contractors and those hiring them to come up with an agreement about who will own the IP rights in the work the contractor was hired to create, to avoid disputes in the future.
- Employees in high-tech industries: many lawsuits have started when an engineer moves from one company to another and end up taking trade secrets with them.
- Employers: As mentioned above, there can be some confusion as to who owns a creative work when it’s produced in the course of employment. Employers who wish to retain the IP rights in works created by their employees in the scope of employment should be aware of these issues.
Do I Need an Intellectual Property Lawyer?
With that in mind, it is a good idea to consult with an intellectual property attorney early in the stages of any major project. It is often the case that very minor intellectual property issues turn into large ones because they were not addressed early enough. An experienced lawyer can advise you on what isn’t and what is intellectual property, so that you understand your legal rights with regards to a project.
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Last Modified: 12-17-2013 12:53 PM PST
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