I often receive questions within my circle regarding intellectual property. Usually, the questions range from “can I patent this slogan?” to “I want to trademark my picture. Can I do that?” I always smile when I get these questions because it’s an opportunity for me to educate a potential client about the different type of intellectual property. For the purpose of this article, I am going to focus on the big three- copyright, trademark, and patent. Although related, each of these offers different protections and benefits.
COPYRIGHT: Per the US Copyright Office, copyright “…protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.” What does all that all that mean? Basically, at the moment you wrote your novel, painted your masterpiece, or snapped that prize-winning picture, copyright protection attached itself. Although not required, copyright registration is highly encouraged to help bolster cases where you are alleging infringement; additionally, works that are registered may be able to receive statutory damages and even attorney fees. Another thing to keep in mind is that a “poor man’s copyright” (the act of mailing yourself a creative work) does not exist. Essentially, you have wasted postage that could have gone to mailing your mother a birthday card.
Getting your goods/services federally registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office is a worthwhile investment.
TRADEMARK: Trademark law is an area that comes across as deceptively easy. But if you’re not careful it can trip you up. A person who seeks a trademark is seeking to identify their goods/services through words, phrases, slogans, symbols or a design. It can also be a combination of any mentioned. Trademarks = BRAND. Think of Nike, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, etc. We know these brands when we see them and sometimes when we hear them. Getting your goods/services federally registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office is a worthwhile investment. Like its cousin, copyrights, trademark registration is not required but provides strong protection against infringers.
PATENTS: Simply put patents protect inventions. In order to receive patent
protection, the invention must be new, useful, and non-obvious. Have you finally created a time travel machine? Patent it! Did you crack the code to finally kicking cancer’s butt permanently? Run and get that patent!! Keep in mind that US patents are limited to 20 years and are specific to territories. Meaning if you receive a patent in the United States, you will have to apply for a patent in other countries.
Knowing the different types of intellectual properties is essential and worth its weight in gold
Knowing the different types of intellectual properties is essential and worth its weight in gold. Another emerging cousin of intellectual property is trade secrets. I won’t go into great detail about trade secrets. Know that trade secrets are not codified in a statue like its first cousins, but is primarily spelled out in a contract (e.g., non-disclosure agreement). In a case where a trade secret is revealed, it would be a breach of contract claim. One of the most famous trade secrets is the Coca-Cola formula. Only those with a need to know have knowledge of the coveted formula. You better believe those individuals have signed a non-disclosure agreement and will lose first born if they breach the agreement. I’m exaggerating of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were to happen.
Tanisia N. Moore is the owner of Moore Legal Solutions, LLC; a boutique intellectual property law firm servicing creatives. All written posts are purely her opinion and do not equate to an attorney-client relationship. If you are interested in a consultation with her, please visit www.moorelegalsolutions.com