Timothy B. McCormack, attorney at law, writes about: Intellectual property is the United States' second largest export (second only to agriculture). We have come a long way since the manufacturing glory days of Henry Ford. In the twenty-first century we still make tangible products but it is the intangible trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets that help make the bottom line count. The following introduction to intellectual property provides a brief overview of the intangible property protections that can help businesses and non-profit organizations.
Web Site Issues
A variety of legal issues can arise in developing and operating a web site.
As the development of e-commerce unfolds, an organization's web site presents valuable potential benefits to the organization. A web site, however, also exposes an organization to potential liabilities and violations of state and federal legislation and international laws. This is one of the fastest growing areas of the law. It is impossible to address every conceivable legal issue that might arise in the operation of the successful business. Organizations must, at least, consider a basic range of legal issues when developing and operating a web site.
Trade Secret Infringement
Trademark infringement is another common area of dispute.
Trademark infringement actions can cover everything from domain name disputes and improper use of a company's name, mark or symbol to infringement of the distinctive elements Used to distinguish one's web site on the Internet. Some trademarks are registered with the federal government. Some trademarks are registered on a state-by-state basis. Still other trademarks are protected without any registration at all under state common law. In comparative advertising it is usually acceptable to use another's trademark so long as the advertisement does not cause consumer confusion as to the source or sponsorship of goods.
Copyright protects creativity. The efforts of writers, artists, designers, software programmers and other talents need to be protected so that hard work can be rewarded. Copyrights, like patents and trademarks, are an effective tool against unauthorized manufacture, use, sales, or imports of one's creative expression, including package design and in some cases product configuration.
Copyright registrations can be enforced at the United States border, creating a cost-effective way of stopping unlawful competing products from entering your key markets.
Trade Secret Infringement
A trade secret is any valuable or technical information used in business to gain competitive advantage that is also kept secret. Examples include the formula for Coca Cola and your customer or client lists. In order to qualify for trade secret protection, reasonable efforts must be made to maintain the secrecy of the business information. Trade secrets are protected under both state and federal law.
Licensing Intellectual Property
Licensing intellectual property to third parties allows a company or a non-profit corporation to exploit and capitalize on its assets. A company should appreciate that licensing empowers businesses to overcome constraints (e.g., capital, manufacturing capacity, research and development capacity, market knowledge, distribution, or trademark and patent protection, or limited employees) sooner and faster than they could otherwise, making them more competitive. Before licensing intellectual property, a company should fully understand its intellectual property rights and applicable laws.
Patent protection is helpful in stopping unauthorized manufacturing, use, sales, or imports of one's invention in the countries where the patent has issued. Patents can be very expensive but are sometimes worth the cost. It is important to think about what can be patented and if the cost of procuring the patent is worth the benefit.
Patents provide their owners with a monopoly of a particular invention/idea for a limited period of time. Patented inventions can range from the "turtle" bumps that separate our roadways to business methods and software for managing multi-tiered hub and spoke mutual funds. In many cases, patented inventions will be marked as “patented.” In some cases, however, patented inventions may not be properly marked. Interpreting what a patent covers or does not cover requires expert legal knowledge and sometimes expert technical knowledge. If patent infringement becomes an issue, the best advice is to seek expert advice.
Provided by McCormack Intellectual Property PS and written by Timothy B. McCormack, attorney at law and intellectual property lawyer.