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Intellectual Property Law Basics

Patent Law
 
Patent law covers the legal conditions under which an invention may be patented. In the U.S., patent law requires that the invention be of patentable subject matter, and have utility, novelty, and non-obviousness. A patent examiner judges patentability during an official examination of a patent application. If the patent is granted, the invention is presumed to have been patentable. However, if an error occurs during the granting procedure, infringement litigation may result. This may occur if, for example, the examiner failed to research all prior technology (“prior art”) in the field of the invention to confirm that the invention had novelty. If the invention was not truly novel, other patent holders may bring legal action against the patent.
 
Copyright Law
 
A copyright gives the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display or license his work. The owner also receives the exclusive right to produce or license derivatives of his or her work. Limited exceptions to this exclusivity exist for types of “fair use,” such as book reviews. To be covered by copyright, a work must be original and in a “concrete medium of expression.” Under current law, works are covered whether or not a copyright notice is attached and whether or not the work is registered. The U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C.S. §§ 101–810, is federal legislation enacted by Congress under its constitutional grant of authority to protect the writings of authors. Changing technology has led to an ever-expanding understanding of the word “writings.” The Copyright Act now reaches architectural design, software, the graphic arts, motion pictures and sound recordings. Given the scope of the federal legislation and its provision precluding inconsistent state law, the field is almost exclusively a federal one. Copyright attorneys can concentrate on litigation, prosecution or administration. Typical tasks in the prosecution arena include searching for the availability of copyrights and negotiating license agreements. Litigators step in when copyrights are violated, or are in need of protection. Copyright attorneys also handle all aspects of copyright registration, transfers and placement/use of proper copyright notices.
 
Trademark Law
 
Trademark law is relevant in virtually all industries and is an area that represents tremendous growth and importance in today’s economic climate. Trademarks are generally distinctive symbols, pictures, or words that sellers affix to distinguish and identify the origin of their products. These marks are protected by federal laws that require registration with the federal and/or state government, giving the owner exclusive rights to use it on the product it was intended to identify and often on related products. Because companies invest tremendous resources to the development of trademarks, companies are prepared to invest the necessary resources towards the protection of these rights from infringers, whether these rights are owned or licensed to others. Trademark law helps owners properly obtain, protect, and utilize an intellectual property portfolio for their business success.