Montana Intellectual Property Law

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 What is Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual property law is generally defined as a subcategory of property law that applies to a broad collection of rights that are vested in intangible properties, such as:

  • A creation;
  • A discovery;
  • An invention; and/or
  • A design.

The intellectual property rights that an originator has in their work will mostly depend on which intellectual property classification their work falls under. Although there are several types of intellectual property, the most well-known include the following:

  • Copyrights;
  • Trademarks;
  • Patents; and
  • Trade Secrets.

More information about these forms of intellectual property will be discussed in further detail in the next section.

One other important factor to keep in mind about intellectual property is that the rights in a work can be transferred to others through a temporary licensing agreement. Thus, it is possible for a work to have multiple rightsholders attached to it.

This also means that if you act in a way that infringes on someone else’s intellectual property rights in a work, then you can be sued by both its original creator as well as any persons who hold exclusive licenses to the work.

What are Some Intellectual Property Law Concepts?

  • Intellectual Property: As discussed above, intellectual property refers to several different types of intangible properties, such as the four that are mentioned in this section. Depending on the jurisdiction, some other forms of work that may be classified as intellectual property and therefore its owner may enjoy exclusive rights over it include:
    • Trade dress,
    • Plant varieties,
    • Industrial design rights, and
    • Geographical indications (note that this may be categorized as a subcategory of trademarks in the United States).
  • Copyrights: Copyrights are exclusive legal rights that are typically granted to originators (e.g., artists, authors, songwriters, etc.) to own, use, reproduce, sell, distribute, and prevent others from using their work without their permission for a specified amount of time. A copyright holder may assign their rights in a work to another through a licensing agreement. Some common examples of works that can be copyrighted include:
    • Literary materials like books and manuscripts,
    • Musical works, such as sound recordings and sheet music,
    • Dramatic works (e.g., scripts for film, television, radio, etc.), and
    • Artistic works like paintings, photographs, jewelry, and sculptures.
  • Trademarks: A trademark is a logo, phrase, word, or other recognizable symbol that is registered and capable of distinguishing the services and/or goods of one company from another. Some examples of trademarks include the Nike swoosh, the double “C” logo on Chanel products, and the apple logo on computers manufactured by Apple.
  • Patents: A patent is a legal instrument that gives its holder title and other rights in a work, including the ability to legally prohibit others from making, using, selling, or offering for sale their invention or discovery. A patent grants its holders these rights for a period of 20 years, with the possibility of an extension in limited circumstances. Some examples of inventions or discoveries that may be patented include:
    • Newly invented or discovered plants that can be asexually reproduced,
    • Articles of manufacture,
    • New methods of a process (e.g., creating a perfume), and
    • Specific forms of industrial designs like a computer icon or beverage bottle.
  • Trade Secrets: A trade secret is some type of valuable information that gives a business a competitive edge over other businesses. To protect a trade secret, a business must prove that the information is not known to the public, that the business made reasonable efforts to keep the information hidden, and that the information provides an economic benefit to the business. Some examples of trade secrets include:
    • Patterns,
    • Formulas,
    • Devices,
    • Recipes,
    • Programs, and
    • Compilations.

What is Meant By “Infringement” in Montana?

Similar to all intellectual property laws throughout the United States, Montana provides a private right of action to persons whose intellectual property rights have been infringed upon under the state’s annotated code. According to the Montana Code Annotated, an originator may bring a private civil lawsuit against another person who has “infringed” or or committed any of the following actions:

  • Used, reproduced, counterfeited, copied, or imitated a work without the consent of the originator in connection with a:
    • Sale,
    • Advertising,
    • Offering for sale, or
    • Distribution of any goods and/or services.

The Montana state statute continues on to provide that the use of the work must also either likely cause confusion to consumers and/or be intended to be used for sale and distribution (possibly for a profit).

In other words, a person who is found liable of the above actions can be held responsible for monetary damages, other legal remedies, and potentially punitive damages. The reason for this is because an action for “infringement” means that someone else has violated an originator’s or an exclusive licensee’s intellectual property rights in a protected work.

What are Some Common Consequences of Intellectual Property Violations in Montana?

As previously mentioned, an originator whose intellectual property rights have been violated in Montana may be able to file a private civil lawsuit against the infringing party. An originator may want to start by hiring a lawyer to send a cease and desist letter, also known as a notice of violation, to the infringing party.

If the infringing party continues to use the work in an inappropriate manner and without the consent of the originator after they have already been sent a notice of violation letter, then the originator may file a civil lawsuit in court.

If the originator prevails in the lawsuit, then they may receive a monetary damages award, an injunction, and/or punitive damages. Thus, the infringing party may face consequences of having to pay damages and/or stopping usage of the protected work.

In addition, some other civil legal remedies may include having to pay statutory damages per every intellectual property work that is infringed upon and possibly any profits received from the sale or distribution of a protected work without the originator’s consent.

Lastly, an infringing party may also face criminal penalties for violating an originator’s intellectual property rights. Criminal penalties can range from monetary fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars to a prison sentence, depending on the severity of the infringement.

Do I Need a Montana Intellectual Property Lawyer for Help with a Lawsuit?

If you need assistance with protecting your intellectual property rights in a work, or alternatively, are being sued for infringing upon someone else’s intellectual property rights, then you may want to consider hiring a Montana intellectual property lawyer for further legal guidance.

An experienced intellectual property law will be able to determine which type of intellectual property protection is best suited to your work and can discuss the legal rights you have under that form of protection. Your lawyer can also assist you in bringing a lawsuit against another party whom you believe is infringing on your intellectual property rights in a protected work.

Alternatively, if you are being sued for infringing on someone else’s intellectual property rights, your lawyer will be able to help you present a defensive legal argument and can protect any rights you may be afforded under the relevant laws. Your lawyer will also be able to provide legal representation in court or at a settlement conference.

Finally, if you need help with completing and filing the registration forms for a particular kind of intellectual property, your lawyer will be able to assist you with this process as well.

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