Intellectual property laws were designed to reward innovators and inventors with limited property rights related to their creations. The right to intellectual property is outlined in the US Constitution, which states that Congress shall have power…to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries [Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8].
In short, intellectual property laws are designed to encourage creativity and investment into innovation and protect inventors from improper competitive practices. Therefore, intellectual property litigation involves disputes related to protective creations of the human mind. This includes discoveries, inventions, artistic works, processes, and products. In addition to the information in the US Constitution, intellectual property is often protected by state laws, meaning litigation can occur in either state or federal courts. And in an increasingly global market, international intellectual property rights are becoming a growing concern.
More specifically, intellectual property litigation pertains to four areas: copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.
- Patents: Patents are one of the most robust forms of intellectual property protection. They can cover any new or useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter. With such a broad definition, patents cover a wide range of items. However, the key thing to remember is that patents must cover a new invention or enhancement. Once a patent is granted to the creator, this individual is allowed to prevent others from making, using, selling, or offering for sale the patented invention. Generally, the term in which others are prohibited from these activities is twenty years from the patent filing date. Patents allow new discoveries to be shared with the world while protecting the patent holder and ensuring they can profit from their endeavors.
- Trademarks: Trademarks include any word, logo, color, name, symbol, or device used to identify the source of a product and distinguish it from others. The image of a product can sometimes be protected as a trademark and is referred to as the trade dress of the goods or services. The holder of trademark rights can prevent others from using similar elements on goods and services that would likely confuse the public regarding the source of the goods or services. In short, these protections prevent others from using deceptive branding strategies that would allow them to benefit from the brand reputation of another company.
- Copyrights: Copyrights are a form of property that protects from the copying of original works. These works may include literary, computer programs, dramatic, musical, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works. Copyrights do not express ideas. Rather, they express an author’s expression of the idea. Therefore, the copyright gives the owner exclusive rights to reproduce, adapt, publicly distribute, perform, or display the work. Generally speaking, modern copyrights extend throughout the creator’s life and an additional seventy years. Pieces that have been done ‘for hire’ are protected for ninety-five years after publication or one hundred and twenty years after creation (whichever is shorter).
- Trade secrets: Trade secrets are also protected. This information allows businesses to keep secret anything they have that can give them an advantage over competitors.
This could include confidential technical, financial, or business information. In addition, misuse of trade secrets can pose a threat to litigation in situations when information is divulged without the consent of the company holding the trade secret.
Licensing disputes pertaining to patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets may also result in intellectual property litigation. Licensing agreements are often between the intellectual property owner and an individual or entity authorized to use the rights in exchange for royalties or fees. Violations of contract terms may result in intellectual property litigation.
Intellectual property litigation protects individuals who commit time and resources to develop innovations. Intellectual property laws can secure and enforce the owner’s legal rights by protecting assets that are often intangible. These laws aim to incentivize individuals who create things that benefit society, who can then profit from their work.
Infringement occurs when an individual profits from the intellectual property of others without consent. Since intellectual property litigation deals with intangible assets, these cases can become complex quickly and often require a skilled litigator to handle the case. For more information about intellectual property litigation, contact the skilled team at Grellas Shah.