The term “intellectual property” (usually shortened to “IP” because lawyers love acronyms) refers to creative and original works or inventions, as well as aspects of your company’s (or your products’) branding. These works are afforded certain legal protections under intellectual property law — but the type of protection available and how you secure that protection depends on what kind of IP you are talking about. Broadly speaking, though, Intellectual property laws aim to prevent other people from taking your ideas without your permission and making a profit. Here’s a brief overview of the steps you can take to protect your intellectual property rights in Minnesota.
Copyrighting Your Artistic Work
Copyright protection is available for “original works of authorship” which the Copyright Act defines as “including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.” Ideas can’t be copyrighted, but the way you express an idea can.
In general, a work is copyrighted as soon as the author creates it. Having a copyright means the author decides whether anyone else can copy, duplicate, or reproduce the work. But questions will remain. Questions like:
- Who is the author? It isn’t always the person who creates the work, at least under copyright law. If you create a work as part of your job, your employer may be the author. The same might be true if you create the work under a contract to create “work for hire” — though that term might not mean what you think it means. That’s a topic for another day.
Did the author give permission to someone else to use, copy, display or do something else with their work? Ideally any permission would be in writing and clearly spell out everyone’s rights and duties. But sometimes the writing isn’t clear, or permission might be implied by the author’s actions.
- Those are among the questions you’ll need to consider with a lawyer if you find someone infringing your copyrights. If those rights are infringed, you can seek a remedy in federal courts. But there’s a limit on that: You can’t file suit to enforce a copyright until you’ve registered that copyright with the US Copyright Office — and if you wait to register until after someone starts infringing, your rights under the Copyright Act may be limited. So although formal copyright registration is not required, taking this step does make it easier to protect your rights.
Obtaining a Trademark
Trademarks are the words, phrases, logos, and pictures that mark and identify your brand, products, or services to the world. Trademark law protects against consumer confusion. The basic idea is that consumers should be able to rely on trademarks to know a product or service comes from a particular business — and competitors shouldn’t be able to use deceptively similar (or even identical) marks to trick consumers into buying their stuff instead. Whether a trademark can be protected depends on many factors, including whether (and sometimes where) it has been used in commerce, whether it is strongly enough connected to a product or company or service in the minds of consumers, and whether it is distinctive or if it’s too generic to warrant protection (a question that doesn’t always have obvious answers).
The extent of your ability to protect a trademark may also depend on whether you’ve registered it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Registration isn’t required to protect a trademark, but it does have benefits; it serves as a kind of announcement to the country that a trademark is already in use, it helps establish who was using a mark first, and in lawsuits, it gives the owner of the mark the ability to seek some remedies that aren’t available to businesses who have unregistered marks.
Having an IP Attorney on Hand
As you explore your options for protecting your intellectual property, it’s a good idea to discuss your needs and goals with a knowledgeable intellectual property attorney. Building a relationship with your lawyer before an issue arises can help you keep an eye on possible infringement actions and react swiftly should a dispute crop up. Get in touch with a friendly and experienced IP attorney today so you can ensure your artistic works and business interests remain sufficiently protected.
Discuss your goals with a dedicated Minneapolis intellectual property lawyer today by calling Rubric Legal LLC at (612) 465-0074.