If you have an idea for an invention, a logo for your business, or a software program, it’s important to protect your work and creativity from infringement. Our team of business law attorneys in Raleigh have experience and knowledge of national and state infringement laws and will work to protect your rights and intellectual property and help you take action against those who are using your work without permission or trying to steal it.
Understanding Intellectual Property and Infringement
To understand the legal aspects of infringement protection, first we need to clear up what some of the terms surrounding this issue mean. Infringement is basically a form of theft, and someone is trying to make money off of someone else’s idea and/or hard work. But unlike stealing possessions like a car, they’re stealing intellectual property, which is the work or invention resulting from creativity. Examples include:
- An invention
- Manuscript, like a book or poem
- Symbol or design such as a business logo
- Software program
- Painting or artwork
- Music, such as lyrics or the tune
If you’ve put in hard work and creativity to develop or invent something, the law is on your side to protect it from theft.
Types of Infringement on Intellectual Property
There are three main types of protecting or identifying your intellectual property, and thus common forms of infringement.
A patent is the exclusive right for an invention that according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) includes “machines, manufactured items, industrial processes, and chemical compositions.” The patent lasts between 15 and 20 years, though extensions can be granted and prevents other people from making, using, or selling an identical item or method.
To receive a patent, your invention has to pass four criteria:
- Statutory class – your invention fits into the machines, manufactured items, process, and chemical composition as listed above.
- Utility – your invention is useful.
- Novelty – Your invention has a feature or quality that is unlike anything else available and the public is unaware of its use.
- “Unobviousness” – What sets your invention apart can’t be obvious to someone who understands the area of your invention.
Patent infringement is defined by the USPTO as “the act of making, using, selling, or offering to sell a patented invention or imparting into the United States a product covered by a claim of a patent without the permission of the patent owner.”
A copyright covers published and unpublished works and protects intellectual property specifically referring to creative works, including literary, musical, and artistic works. While this seems very limited, copyrights cover a large amount of intellectual property, including computer software, architecture, and maps, in addition to books, music, movies, and artwork.
While you can have your work registered for additional protection, your copyright legally exists the moment your work is created and will protect your work for 70 years from the date of publication before it becomes property of the public domain.
Copyright infringement means that someone is reproducing, sharing, performing, or other wise using creative intellectual property without the creator’s permission and within the statute of the copyright. For example, if someone uses a song that was copyrighted in 2012 in a commercial without the holder’s permission, that is copyright infringement.
A trademark is a symbol, word, or phrase that is either legally registered or established as common use to represent a business, organization, or product. It’s what identifies and separates a brand from competitors. Examples include:
- Item names: iPhone, Big Mac
- Brand names: Apple, McDonald’s
- Logos: Nike’s ‘swoosh,’ and McDonald’s ‘golden arches’
By registering a word, phrase, or symbol with the USPTO, you can use the ® symbol. If you don’t register, you can use the ™ symbol to show that this is your “common law” trademark.
Trademark infringement is when someone uses a registered or trademarked phrase, word, or symbol, like if a small business tried to put a Big Mac® on their menu.
Legal Steps of Infringement Protection in Raleigh
When you find that someone is using your intellectual property, there are multiple legal avenues a business lawyer can take to protect you and your rights. Depending on the circumstances, an attorney might:
- Send a Cease and Desist letter telling the offending party to stop the action.
- Send a notice of Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is copyright infringement on the internet.
- Request a court injunction in order to stop someone from continuing to make/sell/distribute your intellectual property.
- The last step is to file a lawsuit.
Contact Us for Infringement Protection in Raleigh
You’ve worked hard to create your intellectual property or start your business, and we want to help you protect it. If you feel like someone is committing infringement, reach out to our experienced attorneys at Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler, and Thomas at (919) 615-2473 or fill out the form below to get started!
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