Intellectual Property - Patent Law, Copyrights, and Trademarks

By Dee Bovis

Patent law is intended to give a temporary monopoly to the inventor to make and sell his invention. The period of the patent is limited but it keeps others from making, using, selling or importing the product. It is a license that can be sold, assigned or transferred. A patent is only good in the country where it is issued so patents must be obtained in all desired countries.

A patent is for a specific length of time. It is usually twenty years. When a patent reaches its expiration date the use of the invention is open to all interested parties. Annual renewal fees are to be paid each year during the term of the patent.

All patents have to be new with no part that is available to the public anywhere in the world before the patent is filed. They must have an inventive step or steps and there must be an industrial application. Agriculture is considered an industry for purposes of obtaining a patent.

A patent is said to be pending during the time of application to the acceptance or rejection of the application.

A provisional patent is used to quickly file an application to protect an invention while a patent is being obtained. It is much faster, easier and cheaper than a patent. A provisional patent gives the inventor twelve months to file a full patent application. During this time the term patent pending is used.

Copyright law is the law that protects published and unpublished literature, art and scientific work in any tangible form. It protects anything you can see hear or touch. Copyright laws give the creator the exclusive right to their work whether it is dance, music, photographs, graphics or HTML coding.

Copyright begins as soon as the work is created and turned into a tangible form. That can mean the setting of music to paper or the setting of data to files. The prerequisite is that the information be put in a tangible format and that a date and ownership be attached. This can mean mailing a copy of the item by certified mail and then not opening it when it arrives. The copyright then needs to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office as a requirement in order to sue for monetary damages should a violation of the copyright arise. However, if somebody copies and redistributes the item without permission before the copyright is registered, the author still has the right to assert a copyright claim as the true author.

The above applies to digital art and graphics. Open a gif, jpg, or png file that you created and look at the properties. It states the date you saved it to your hard drive as the date of creation. Mail the disk to yourself in a certified mail envelope and when it arrives put it in a safe place.

The proper way to place a copyright notice is as follows: Copyright © (first date of creation) (name of owner). Like this: Copyright © 2007 John Smith.

Copyrights last for a long period of time. The time depends on the item and the country but it is often twenty-five to fifty years after the death of the holder.

Trademark law is intended to let buyers know what they are buying. A trademark is a symbol or name that identifies a product as belonging to a specific company and that it is legally registered to that company so that it can only be used by that company

Trademark infringement is when a company uses an identical or confusingly similar mark to the trademark of another company. An owner of a trademark can bring legal proceedings against anyone who infringes on his registration. In the United States this is not true of unregistered marks.

Each one of these entities is unique and has a unique purpose, set of laws and applications. They originated separately and cover different activities and issues.

The term intellectual property came into existence in 1967 after the World Intellectual Property Organization was founded as a UN organization. The term makes people think of the three separates entities as a single entity and confuses many. There is an ongoing disagreement about this generalization.

If you are trying to market an invention you should try to become as educated as possible about the process and get a provisional patent. Be sure you are working with someone with integrity. There are many scams and the process is complicated and can be very expensive. Often a patent attorney is needed to research the proposed patent and to make the drawings. It is seldom a good idea to become involved with a company that says it can handle the process from registration to marketing and production. These companies usually own several interrelated companies that siphon off the money and leave the inventor high and dry. Remember the patent does not necessarily go to the person that invents the item but to the person who patents it first. Also, if a product has been in general use for a specified period of time it is no longer patentable unless a new unique feature or improvement can be illustrated.

Understand the uniqueness of each of the parts of the intellectual property umbrella. Do not let the boundaries become blurred and double check to make sure you remain in control.

Learn more about intellectual property by visiting IP Watchdog. IP Watchdog is an excellent resource with many articles about intellectual property including provisional patents, copyrights, invention marketing, and trademarks at


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