Intellectual property law protects ownership of creative works. Intellectual property law ensures creators that they can profit from their works, while others can't without their permission. Intellectual property law also induces individuals to produce creative works that are beneficial to society. Intellectual property is composed of patents, trademarks and copyrights and each provides protection for specific types of work. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has authority over patents and trademarks, while the U.S. Copyright Office has authority over copyrights. The two governmental agencies are under the authority of Congress.
A patent is granted to the owner of a work so that others cannot use the work for any purpose. Congress authorized the issuance of patents so inventors would feel safe to disclose their creations to the public. In the United States, a patent expires after 20 years from the date filing of an application. After 20 years, the patent will be public property and anyone has the right to use the patent. To apply for a patent, there are requirements that must be complied with. Among other requirements, an application must be filed within one year of certain acts, the description of the invention must be complete, and the invention must be new. Patent law in the United States is not applicable to some countries in the world. Thus, if the creator seeks global protection of his work, the creator must apply for patent in those countries. Not all creations will meet the requirements for patent protection. If a creation is obvious in design, not useful, or morally offensive, the application will be denied.
Trademarks protect symbols, names, and slogans used to identify goods and services. The purpose of obtaining trademark is to distinguish one's product from another. Trademark rights can be obtained by either (i) filing a mark with the Trademark Office or (ii) by actually using the mark in commerce or in association with a service. Filing a mark is not required although it can create a nationwide priority of rights in the mark against any other person who subsequently uses the same or confusingly similar mark. The requirement in filing a mark is the applicant's bona fide intent to use that mark for products or services. Without bona fide intent, the filing may be deemed invalid and the applicant may be subjected to penalties.
Copyright protects the expression of ideas and is granted to creators of original intellectual and artistic works. Copyright is automatic upon creation and, in the United States, lasts for the life of the creator, plus 50 years. Works that subject to copyright include books, pictures, sculptures, music, movies, and computer programs. By obtaining copyright, the creator has the right to reproduce his work, make derivative works, and distribute or sell the work to the public. In the case of music or movies, the creator has the right to perform the work publicly, and, in the case of sculptures, display the work to the public.
Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are lucrative properties that must be protected by law. It is therefore crucial to seek the assistance of intellectual property law experts in drafting documents and complying with requirements needed for applications. The major issue arising from intellectual property law is infringement, which is the unauthorized use of intellectual property. To prevent infringement, application for patents, trademarks and copyrights is necessary. When an infringement dispute goes to court, the person who filed and obtained the intellectual property protection is given preference over the party who didn't. Infringement cases, however, are expensive, so it is crucial to refer to an intellectual property law attorney first before proceeding with any litigation.