By Karin J. Lindgren JD

Intellectual Property

A summary of the legal protections available for your IP assets.

5 Legal Protections: PATENT COPYRIGHT TRADEMARK TRADE SECRET CONTRACT
Purpose To protect one's intellectual work product from unauth'd use by others; incentive to produce new inventions. To protect content of one's intellectual work product from unauth'd use by others, including copying and derivative works. To protect public from confusion; protect corporate goodwill; protect company from losing market. To protect one's intellectual work product from unauthorized use by others. To create an enforceable promise to protect intellectual work product; a biz incentive.
Term 20 yrs from filing, if the patent application was filed on or after June 8, 1995. Death of author plus 70 yrs. For "works for hire" and anonymous works: the shorter of 95 yrs from publication or 120 yrs from creation, w/ some exceptions for unpublished works. Potentially forever, as long as the mark is used (not abandoned), and TM registration is timely renewed. Potentially forever, as long as the trade secret is affirmatively protected and maintained as confidential and proprietary information. Depends upon negotiated contract terms.
Subject Matter Can apply to a useful, novel and "non-obvious" (when compared to "prior art") product, process or application of an idea; not abstract ideas or "laws of nature" Can apply to original expression of an idea; works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium, or recorded in a concrete way Can apply to a name or a shape/logo with no "prior use" by another. Can apply to any "useful arts" and business information. Any intellectual property can be protected in a contract.
Pros Prevents free riders and independent originators; strongest IP protection available. Long term protection; low cost; protection begins once work is in tangible form. Could last forever; low cost; eliminates "unfair competition" Could last forever; easiest to get (must take reasonable measures to ensure secrecy). Ability to craft contract terms to suit particular situation.
Cons Most difficult to get; limited duration; time bars; costly to procure and to enforce. Does not protect ideas (even if original); does not protect facts; does not protect from another's independent origination of same expression of an idea. Does not preclude others from copying, so long as copying is not likely to cause confusion. Weakest IP protection; no protection against independent creators. Difficult to negotiate contractual IP protection; uncertainty of language; lack of crystal ball for future IP developed by biz.