Intellectual property law encompasses many areas, but in the world of business transactions and business litigation, it typically covers trademark, trade secret, patent, and copyright. Intellectual property law is governed by both state and federal laws, which can get confusing for individuals to determine how to assess whether they have any intellectual property rights and whether they can exercise those rights through lawsuits in federal or state court. A knowledgeable attorney in intellectual property law can help navigate these channels and alleviate this stress.
Trademarks are words, symbols, logos, colors, and/or brands by which a company identifies its goods or services. The main premise behind trademark law and allowing this protection for a company’s identity is to prevent consumer confusion as to the source of goods and services. The duration of trademark protection may last indefinitely so long as the mark is continually used and not abandoned. Both federal and state trademarks can be filed, but for a federal trademark, goods or services must cross state lines. Federal registration of a trademark can be an easy online process through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), but it is deceptively simple because a seemingly simple mistake can prove costly.
Trade secret protection is typically offered through state laws and does not require a formal registration. For trade secret protection to exist, the information must be secret (not known or readily ascertainable by others) and have commercial value because of its secrecy. Trade secrets can last indefinitely so long as the owner of the trade secret takes reasonable steps to ensure its secrecy. An experienced intellectual property law attorney is able to advise you on what information constitutes a trade secret and explain what it means to take reasonable steps to ensure secrecy.
Patent law protection covers invention and innovation, but requires more than mere discovery. Patent applications are also filed through the USPTO where an examiner reviews each application to ensure that it does not infringe on prior art. The crafting of claims within a patent application are an art form in and of themselves and require the assistance of a patent attorney or patent agent to ensure they are done properly. Patents offer protection for 20 years before the technology or invention is released to the public domain.
Copyright protection covers creative expression in a fixed medium. While creativity is required for copyright protection, it is a low threshold to meet. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years and is relatively easy—and inexpensive—to register online. Although the registration is simple, copyright laws are murky territory and leave much debate on whether a work is copyrightable and who actually owns the rights, especially in an employer-employee relationship. As with the other areas of intellectual property law, advice on copyright registration is best sought from an experienced intellectual property law attorney.
- Do I need to register my Trademark?
- Isn’t the day I formed my business entity my first date of use in commerce?
- Why would someone choose trade secret protection over patent protection?
- Can’t I just mail my work to myself for a “poor man’s copyright” instead of filing a copyright application?
- Why should I hire an attorney to assist with submitting trademark or copyright applications when it’s so easy to do online?
Additional Intellectual Property Law Resources:
If you have an intellectual property law matter, it is important to find an experienced intellectual property law attorney in Encinitas. Click here or call 760-517-8409 to schedule a free consultation.