Intellectual Property: Overview

AdobeStock_121073632-300x200Intellectual property, defined as “any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others,” isn’t a modern concept. In fact, the United States Constitution, through the “Intellectual Property Clause,” protects the intellectual property rights of authors and inventors in the arts and sciences. It is from this clause that federal intellectual property law, including trademark, copyright, and patent protections, are derived.  A unique product of human intellect can be the basis of a copyright, trademark, or patent.

Categories of Intellectual Property

As is clear from the definition of intellectual property (“IP”), the law doesn’t protect all products of human intellect. Instead, federal and/or state laws protect the following types of intellectual property:

  • Patents – These cover inventions including processes, machines, compositions of matter, designs, and plants. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) reviews and grants patents in the United States, but individual patent holders must enforce their rights.
  • Trademarks – These are symbols, designs, words, phrases, or a combination thereof that represent a company or product. McDonald’s golden arches and Apple’s white apple are examples of trademarks. Trademarks can be registered through the USPTO or established by use under common law. However, registered trademarks are afforded greater legal protection.
  • Copyrights – These protections are afforded to original works of intellectual and artistic expression including books, photographs, paintings, magazines, movies, music, fashion, architecture, sculptures, websites, business plans/charts, software programs, and graphic designs. Unlike patents, copyright protections arise immediately upon the transfer of an original work to a fixed and tangible medium.

Protections Afforded to Intellectual Property

A patent owner has exclusive rights to create, use, sell, and import in the United States the invention claimed in the patent. Owners can monetize their patents through licensing or selling their patents for profit. The federal Patent Act governs protection for patent holders against infringement.

The owner of a protected trademark is entitled to use the trademark in commerce, sell or license the trademark, and sue for trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. Whether the infringement was unintentional or purposeful counterfeiting, a trademark owner may be entitled to an injunction and monetary damages for trademark infringement.

Copyright owners have exclusivity rights and can bring copyright infringement actions under the federal copyright act. Copyright owners have the exclusive right to copy, display, sell, and create derivative works. For example, a movie about Disney’s Mickey Mouse is subject to Disney’s copyright even if the screenplay is unique.

 Contact the Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Lawyers at Structure Law Group

The value of a Silicon Valley startup’s IP can greatly influence the startup’s overall value.  IP that isn’t protected isn’t valuable. To learn more about state and federal intellectual property protections, schedule your legal consultation with our Silicon Valley intellectual property lawyers at Structure Law Group, LLP by calling us at 408-441-7500 or contacting us online.