Intellectual Property, Trademark, Copyright & Patent Law

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When your business creates an innovative product, writes a manual or pays for a logo, it creates intellectual property. You want to make sure that your competitors or other interested parties can't make copies of your work and use or sell them. Copyright, patent and trademark laws protect intellectual property. Which one you use depends on the kind of intellectual property you want to protect.


The two parts to a trademark are the graphic mark, such as a logo or image, and the products or services to which it will apply. You have to submit both to the United States Patent and Trademark Office and pay the applicable fees. The USPTO reviews the request, and may require evidence that you are using the trademark in commercial transactions. Once your request is granted, the office publishes your registration and an image of the trademark in the Official Gazette, and also issues a registration certificate showing the trademark.


Patents protect inventions for a given time period in return for the inventor making the invention public. To apply for a patent, you first have to perform a search to see if the patent office has already issued a similar patent. If not, you can apply for your patent, sending in all relevant details of your idea. If the USPTO grants your patent, it will advise you and charge you the applicable fees. It issues the patent once you have paid the initial fees. The patent remains in effect for 20 years, as long as you pay the maintenance fees due after 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 years.


When you create an original work, you automatically own the copyright. Copyright applies to written work, images, music, performances, sculpture and movies. It gives you the exclusive right to copy and distribute your work, prepare derivative works, perform your work publicly, show your work, or play recordings. If your business pays an employee or contractor to create a work, it is a work made for hire, and the copyright belongs to the company. Copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the originator or, in the case of works made for hire, 95 years after publication and 120 years after creation, whichever is less.


The monitoring and enforcement of intellectual property rights are up to the rights holders. They can file complaints and go to court to recover damages. Rights holders can claim damages because the actions of the infringers have decreased the value of their property, because the infringing party has made money from their infringement, and for punitive damages. Other remedies open to rights holders are to have sale of the infringing material banned, have any remaining copies seized or destroyed, and ban any future sale of infringing products.


About the Author

Bert Markgraf is a freelance writer with a strong science and engineering background. He started writing technical papers while working as an engineer in the 1980s. More recently, after starting his own business in IT, he helped organize an online community for which he wrote and edited articles as managing editor, business and economics. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from McGill University.

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