The following is provided for informational purposes only. The information below may not apply to your specific situation so always consult an attorney. Use of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., your Denver business lawyer.
What is intellectual property protection and does my business need it?
Intellectual Property Rights Overview
There are four types of intellectual property rights:
- Patent protection
- Copyright protection
- Trademark protection
- Trade secret protection
The first type of intellectual property protection is a patent. Patents protect any new process, machine, manufactured article, or composition of matter. Patent protection lasts for approximately 20 years. After approximately 20 years, the patent expires and other companies can manufacture the item. For example, generic drugs typically flood the market right after the patent on the brand name drug expires. Federal law protects patents.
The second type of intellectual property protection is a copyright. Copyrights protect “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. In addition, it also includes software developed through creative activity. Presently, the law protects copyrighted works for the author’s life plus 70 years; however, the amount of time seems to increase every time the copyright for Mickey Mouse is about to expire. Federal law protects copyrights.
The third type of intellectual property protection is a trademark. Trademarks protect “a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” Trade names, the name that a business advertises under, also fall under trademark protection. Trademarks last as long as the owner keeps using the trademark and files documentation with the Patent and Trademark Office stating this. Federal law protects trademarks. In addition, in some cases, state law may protect trademarks and trade names.
The fourth type of type of intellectual property protection is a trade secret. A trade secret protects a formula, practice, process, design, or pattern that not generally known to the public. Businesses use trade secrets because in order to get patent or copyright protection, you must disclose the item to the public and patents and copyrights only lasts for a limited time (although this time may be 70 years or more with a copyright). Usually, agreements with employees, contractors, or others that need to know about the trade secret protect the trade secret. The best-known trade secret is the formula for Coca-Cola. State law protects trade secrets either explicitly or through general contract law.