What is Intellectual Property?
Whenever I introduce myself to someone as a trademark attorney, the first question I get is almost always, “So, you do patents?”. This invites a discussion of the difference between the three common types of intellectual property. Patents, Coyrights, and Trademarks.
From most people’s perspective, it is all one area of the law, but they are very different from a protection standpoint, a legal skills standpoint, and a market standpoint. From a market sense, trademarks are by far the most common. Trademarks can be best described by using words like “identity” or “brand”. Without getting into the legalese, essentially, a trademark protects the way the public associates a product or service with a name, logo or slogan. For example, when you drive down the street and see a sign on the side of the road with a big orange shell on it, you know where to fill up your tank. Or, when you are browsing the isles at your sporting goods store and see a “swoosh” you know you have found the right shoes. Protecting the association you have with those products requires filing a federal trademark application. Since every business has a name or identity, nearly every business is affected by trademark law. Companies spend a great deal of money to protect their brands, as you can imagine.
Compare this to patents. The common word we associate with patent law is “invention”. This can be a device to perform open heart surgery in a safer manner, a new combination of chemicals to produce a new drug, or the addition of a new part to an airplane wing to make flying safer. Most businesses do not “invent” new products so most business do not need to worry about patent law. The ones that are involved in the patent world, however pay the price and reap the rewards. You can expect tens of thousands of dollars just to get started with a patent application. However, to have the rights to produce a life saving pharmaceutical product can be worth billions.
The word, “Copyright” is one of my favorite legal terms because it tells you exactly what you are protecting. The owner of a copyright has the “right” to make “copies” of his work of authorship. An “author” is the first person to fix a “work of art” in a “tangible medium”. Copyrights generally involve paintings, books, songs, software codes, and other atistic creations.
Some ventures require all three types of Intellectual Property protection. Think of a video game. The creator of the game will want to get a trademark on “Mario Brothers”, the actual computer code will be protected by the copyright, and the manner in which the software works and relates to the hardware will be the subject of the patent. Take some time to think about the differences and how it impacts your business. Are you concerned about your name, logo, or identity? Have you seen similar names to yours or are concerned that you may unknowingly be infringing on some other company’s trademark?
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