10.1 - Alternate Dispute Resolution10.2 - Bankruptcy10.3 - Dissolution of Marriage10.4 - Intellectual Property10.5 - Personal Injury10.6 - Professional Malpractice10.7 - Real Estate10.8 - Taxation


The protection of intellectual property fosters human creativity by providing legal rights to those who provide the creativity. The legal rights typically provide some type of exclusivity over the creation. The major intellectual property rights discussed below include patents, trade secrets, copyrights, and trademarks. Other intellectual property rights, such as semiconductor mask work protection and publicity rights are not discussed. Many countries have similar intellectual property rights, but the following discussion is limited to the United States of America.

Patents may be obtained from the United States Patent Office for inventions that meet complex legal standards that are beyond the scope of this discussion. But a patented invention should have some valuable difference from the current knowledge base. The types of inventions that may be patented include mechanical, electrical, and chemical structures and processes - including software and biotechnology innovations. A patent provides the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention for a period of approximately 15-20 years. Independent development does not excuse patent infringement.

Copyrights are acquired when an author creates an expression in a tangible medium. A few examples of authorship include painting a picture, recording a song, or writing software to memory. The copyrighted work must be an original creation of the author, but it does not require any special artistic merit. Copyright notices and registration with the United States Copyright Office dramatically improve the ability to exploit a copyright. The copyright includes the right to exclude others from reproducing, distributing, displaying, performing and preparing derivatives of the copyrighted work. The copyright protects only the tangible expression itself and not the underlying ideas within the expression. Copyright infringement may be excused if it is deemed a fair use - for example, a small, non-commercial use of a copyrighted work may be considered a fair use. When properly managed, a copyright can last for several decades.

Trade secrets include information that has some economic value because it is not generally ascertainable by others, and that is the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy. Typical trade secret information includes technical information, business plans, customer lists, and data compilations. Trade secret protection prevents others from using or disclosing the trade secret without the permission of the trade secret owner. Trade secrets do not prevent independent development by others. A trade secret may last indefinitely if the economic value and secrecy are maintained.

Trademarks can be any word, symbol, or device that an entity uses to distinguish its goods and services from the goods and services of others. A trademark may not be confusingly similar to the trademarks of others. Thus, a trademark can prevent others from using a mark that creates confusion as to the origin of the goods or services. A trademark is obtained by its use in commerce, and trademark rights are significantly enhanced by federal registration with the United States Trademark Office. A trademark lasts for as long as it is used and remains distinctive.

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