Intellectual property (IP) refers to certain types of intellectual creations, including artwork and inventions, to which the creator owns exclusive rights. Depending on how the work is expressed, intellectual property laws often fall into three main categories: copyright, patent, and trademark. Copyright laws regulate the rights to expressing ideas and information, usually in the form of art or broadcasts. Patent laws refer to the rights to which inventors are entitled. Lastly, trademark laws refer to the rights of an identifying symbol, slogan, or sign such as a logo to which individuals and businesses possess. Intellectual property law can be very complex and confusing, especially in a technologically changing world.
Copyright laws prohibit people and businesses other than the copyright holder from re-creating, copying, selling, or distributing material to which the holder has exclusive rights. It is important to understand that the central idea behind a work of art is not what is protected; rather the creative expressions of the work is what is covered by copyright laws. For example, a violation of the popular comic strip Garfield would consist of a new author creating a comic strip that centers around an orange tabby cat and his everyday problems. However, anyone can publish a comic strip whose central themes in general revolve around a cat. This is because copyright laws try to protect both the original creators of a work of art while promoting creativity at the same time.
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Unlike copyrights, a trademark indicates the source or origin of a product or service in order to distinguish it from those of other businesses. A trademark can be in the form of a sign, symbol, slogan, word, logo, domain name or other indicating device. This indication gives the trademark holder exclusive rights to its use and is also used a preventative measure to keep consumers from confusion. A trademark, however, does not prevent another business or person form creating or selling a similar product or service. Instead, it prevents them from utilizing a similar indicating device.
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Lastly, inventors can obtain exclusive rights to their creations and discoveries by obtaining a patent for their work. A patent prohibits others from creating, selling, distributing, and using the work for which the patent is granted without permission. There are three different categories of inventions that can be patented: a utility patent, a design patent, and a plant patent. Utility patents are granted for discoveries or inventions of totally new material, including machines, processes, and compositions of matter, or any type of improvement of an already existing patent. A design patent simply protects the appearance of a manufactured object, while a plant patent protects the reproduction of a new plant species through seedless reproduction.
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An intellectual property attorney can help you in various ways. From determining which intellectual property laws apply to your specific case and protecting your rights, to defending or challenging an infringement or violation, intellectual property attorneys will be able to thoroughly investigate your issue and help you in achieving your goals. Because intellectual property litigation at times can be quite expensive, intellectual property attorneys can even help you attain your same goals while avoiding extensive trials.
Intellectual property attorneys usually charge a retainer and an hourly fee, but some may take a litigation case on contingency depending on the facts.
For complex matters, an experienced intellectual property attorney may be more appropriate while simple filings may be done by a less experienced and therefore more inexpensive attorney.