Intellectual property, or IP, refers to broad property rights vested in the intangible. Owners of these types of property have the right:
- To possess it;
- To prevent other individuals from possessing it; and
- To preserve its integrity.
This forms the basis of laws against:
- Trespass; and
- Vandalism of intellectual property.
Copyright, patent, and trademark laws fall under intellectual property law. An intellectual property attorney can help creators protect their work and give them peace of mind that their work will not be copied or used without their permission.
Additionally, each state may have specific intellectual property laws and codes. An example is how Montana’s intellectual property law is specifically addressed in the Montana Code Annotated.
The legal system provides privileges and protections for property owners and inventors through intellectual property laws. Intellectual property law promotes economic growth through new ideas, technologies, artistic creativity, and inventions, with the assurance that their creative work and ideas will be protected legally.
As a reminder, intellectual property laws protect entities without physical forms. Examples include:
- Names and logos which are attached to products;
- Inventions; and
- Original works of authorship.
Because intellectual property cannot be physically owned, the laws that apply to personal property cannot and do not apply to it. Consequently, intellectual property laws generally protect the exclusive rights to use or reproduce intellectual property rather than its actual possession. Intellectual property laws may also protect secrecy.
Intellectual property generally belongs to the person who invented or created something first. Some employers, however, state in their employment contracts that they own the work their employees create. Using a licensing agreement, intellectual property rights can be temporarily given away.
What Is Infringement?
An intellectual property infringement occurs when materials registered for protection under intellectual property laws are used, reproduced, or sold without permission.
Protected materials generally include:
- Materials; and
- Works that have been registered under copyright, trademark, or patent laws.
As a result of infringement laws, creators of original work are protected from unauthorized use and access.
Although definitions vary depending on the subject matter, infringement generally requires proof that:
- The victim owned the rights to a valid copyright, trademark, or patent;
- The infringer had access to the protected work;
- The infringer exploited their access to or used the protected work without authorization from the original creator; and
- There are no applicable exceptions to the unauthorized use of the material.
More specifically, trademark infringement is the unauthorized use or reproduction of a trademark, such as a logo or brand symbol, and is similar to service mark infringement. An example of this is when clothing manufacturers attach brand labels to generic items, attempting to have them pass as authentic. Trademark infringement violations are serious and often involve aspects of deceptive trade practices.
Patent infringement is the unauthorized manufacture, sale, or importation of a patented invention. Whether someone infringed on your patent will largely depend on the scope of your patent claims; because the claims define your invention, they also define the scope of protection that your invention receives. An invention must infringe all of the claims in your patent in order to infringe it.
Two steps must be taken to determine whether a new invention infringes on your patent:
- You must determine the scope and meaning of the claims in your patent; and
- You must determine if the new invention infringes on those claims.
Legal penalties for copyright infringement generally include:
- Civil damages in the exact amount of the damages and lost profits;
- Injunctions to prevent the infringer from continuing their illegal activities;
- Impoundment or confiscation of the infringing works;
- A prison sentence; and
- Mandatory payment of court and attorney fees by the defendant.
Penalties for trademark and patent infringement specifically may follow similar guidelines.
Penalties will depend on several determining factors, including:
- Applicable state and federal laws;
- The nature of the infringing activities; and
- The amount of losses suffered by the plaintiff.
What Is an Infringement Lawsuit?
An infringement lawsuit may be filed with intellectual property protected under state or federal laws. This may include material that is protected under copyright, trademark, patent, or other laws. Different types of laws provide exclusive rights to own, sell, use, or distribute certain items, logos, inventions, works of art, music, and words.
Most infringement lawsuits involve the unauthorized use, sale, or reproduction of protected information or material. There are many ways a copyright, trademark, or patent can be infringed. Infringement cases are governed by their own laws and rules.
How Is Infringement Proven?
Generally, an infringement occurs when the defendant uses the protected material in an illegal or unauthorized manner. Additionally, it must be proven that the patent, trademark, or copyright is valid and that the violation occurred within its scope of protection.
It is not always necessary to copy the protected material directly or exactly for infringement to occur. For instance, in a copyright infringement lawsuit, it is sometimes enough if the defendant’s product was similar enough to cause “confusion” amongst members of the general consumer base.
Infringement cases will differ based on the type of work, product, or invention involved. Many lawyers specialize in only one area of intellectual law (such as copyright or patent law).
What Types of Evidence Are Required During Infringement Litigation?
Like any civil lawsuit, infringement litigation claims must be substantiated by evidence. Typical types of evidence used in infringement litigation include:
- Proof of protection and rights (i.e., proof that the plaintiff is the valid holder of the copyright, trademark, or patent)
- Proof of violation of intellectual property rights
- Failure of the defendant to notify the plaintiff of their use of the material
- Evidence that the plaintiff suffered losses on account of the infringement
A direct misappropriation of protected materials may not always be necessary to prove infringement. In trademark lawsuits, for example, it is often enough to prove infringement if the defendant’s logo caused “product confusion” among consumers. Product confusion may vary from state to state and depending on the product (for example, if a company deliberately named its soda after a popular brand to fool consumers).
What Are Some Remedies in an Infringement Lawsuit?
When it comes to infringement, one of the main remedies is often a legal damages award paid by the defendant to the plaintiff. This is a monetary amount intended to compensate the plaintiff for their losses. Among these losses are lost profit, lost clientele, and in some cases, reputational damage.
A common remedy is for the authorities to confiscate any materials used in the infringing conduct. An infringement lawsuit can result in the closure of not only the final product but also the equipment and mechanisms used to produce it (such as sewing machines, printing machines, and other equipment).
Is Infringement Considered to be a Criminal Charge?
In some cases, infringement can result in federal criminal charges, such as prison time or other penalties. Intellectual property is protected by federal and state laws that are quite strict.
In addition to general damages, courts may also award punitive damages. However, this is often limited to double or treble damages; or twice or three times the amount of the base economic damages award. These penalties can be imposed when intellectual property protections and laws are intentionally violated.
The plaintiff must claim the award in their initial complaint when seeking double or treble damages. If the plaintiff didn’t request double or treble damage in their complaint or in a motion early in the trial, they are considered to have waived this right.
The victim should claim double and treble damages as soon as possible since double and treble damages can sometimes bypass the statutory limits on their recovery.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with an Infringement Lawsuit?
Infringement lawsuits often require extensive knowledge of intellectual property laws. You may wish to hire a qualified intellectual property lawyer in your area if you need assistance with an infringement lawsuit.
Your lawyer can explain your legal options and how to proceed with a lawsuit. As your attorney represents you throughout the process, they can also provide valuable legal advice.