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American businesses of all sizes constantly have new ideas, products and concepts to improve their standings in the global marketplace. Within this constant innovation the field of intellectual property law takes shape, establishing legal protections for intellectual property owners. When intellectual property is stolen or misappropriated, the owner can pursue a civil lawsuit against the unauthorized user. In some cases, the theft of intellectual property can constitute a federal or state crime. Some common forms of intellectual property include:
A copyright is a statutory right that the creator of an intellectual property obtains at the point of the work's creation and for a limited period afterward. Copyright protection is typically associated with books, movies and music. Published and unpublished works are covered under copyrights. A copyright extends for the creator's life and 70 years after his or her death in most cases. In order to pursue a civil infringement lawsuit, the owner must have registered the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the alleged act of infringement.
A patent gives the creator of an invention the permission to legally prevent other parties from utilizing the invention. It is obtained from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The right is granted for 20 years from the date on which the application was initially filed, after which it may no longer be enforced. Obtaining a patent can be a complex matter with the vast amount of patented ideas and products currently in existence. The process requires a specific and extensive description of the invention. A patent attorney can appraise a client's idea and determine whether the application will be accepted.
A trademark is a symbol, phrase or design that clearly identifies a company's brand, and it is an essential component for many companies. Registration is handled through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If approved, the registration will remain in effect as long as the owner files specific declaring documents at set intervals thereafter. Generally, trademarks remain in force for 10-year periods.
Another type of protected intellectual property is the trade secret. These consist of specific technical knowledge that businesses normally guard with a high degree of caution due to the significant market advantages that they provide. In contrast to patents, trade secret protection does not expire after a specific duration; however, it only protects against unauthorized usage and disclosure while patents also protect against use by third parties who independently discover the same item or process. If a trade secret is misappropriated, courts can award damages, court costs, reasonable attorneys' fees and even payment of a royalty to the secret holder.
While it is possible to file for these protections without help, it is not recommended. This is a complex, evolving area of the law. An attorney who has experience with these types of matters can often make the process easier and shed light on how this layered area of the law is laid out. An experienced intellectual property lawyer can help determine the appropriate type of legal protection required and assist with enforcing intellectual property rights.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified intellectual property lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local intellectual property attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.