Learn About Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Protecting intellectual property has become one of the most important practices in today's business world. To this effect, the United States has a robust system for the legal safeguarding of ideas and creativity. The principal options available for intellectual property protection are copyrights, trademarks and patents.

Copyright

All works of intellectual property have an inherent principle of copyright by virtue of authorship, but registration gives a legal and documentary basis to protect the expression of original works. The Copyright Act of 1976 directs the Library of Congress to administer the U.S. Copyright Office, which is a massive registrar of original works such as writings, video and audio recordings, drawings, multimedia productions and many others. Through registration, the copyright holder has the right to reproduce, display, perform, and distribute original works.

Trademark

The unique source of goods and services can be properly identified and distinguished by special names, words or symbols registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In essence, this agency provides a way to legally protect a brand and to prevent others from appropriating the goods, services and branding of other entities. Trademarks also offer protection against the use of words, names or symbols maliciously designed to be strikingly similar to those used by competitors. In recent years, the importance of trademarks has been underscored by an increasing wave of organized counterfeiting around the world.

Patent

Individuals and business entities can enjoy exclusive rights to their inventions for a period of 20 years through registration in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patents can be obtained through an application process that includes an exhaustive search of all other registrations. Holders of patents are granted property rights over their projects, which means that they can legally impede others from trying to capitalize by means of using, manufacturing, implementing, importing, and otherwise selling the inventions. Patents do not necessarily have to be invented in the U.S.; the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will accept applications for inventions that were conceived abroad through a process of importation. The rights granted by a patent registration can only be enforced in the U.S. and its territories.

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