Intellectual property is a property right that can be protected under federal and state law, including copyrightable works, ideas, discoveries, and inventions. The term intellectual property relates to intangible property such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Thus, in today’s legal marketplace most registered patent attorneys hold themselves out as intellectual property law attorneys, as opposed to merely a patent attorney.
The U.S. Copyright Act is federal legislation enacted by Congress under its Constitutional grant of authority to protect the writings of authors. See U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8. Evolving technology has led to an ever expanding understanding of the word “writings”. The Copyright Act now covers architectural design, software, the graphic arts, motion pictures, and sound recordings. Because federal legislation invalidates inconsistent state law, the copyright field is almost exclusively a Federal one. 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. Under current law, works are covered whether or not a copyright notice is attached and whether or not the work is registered. The federal agency charged with administering the act is the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.
A patent is the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention throughout the United States of America. In short, others may not make, use or sell the patented invention without the authorization of the patent owner. A patent then, is a limited monopoly granted by the government for the term period of the patent. After the patent expires, anyone may make, use or sell the invention. The issuance of patents, trademarks, and copyrights is governed at the federal level by the standards and regulations of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Trademarks identify the goods of one manufacturer from the goods of others. Trademarks are important business assets because they allow companies to establish their product’s reputation without having to worry that an inferior product will diminish their reputation or profit by deceiving the consumer. Trademarks include words, names, symbols and logos. The intent of trademark law is to prevent consumer confusion about the origin of a product. In the United States trademarks may be protected by both Federal statute under the Lanham Act and states’ statutory and/or common laws.