Intellectual property is the area of law that deals with the reproduction of creative works. Creative works are considered to be the intellectual property of its owner, and may be transferred, regulated and protected like other forms of property. There are four primary ways to protect intellectual property: 1) a trademark of a word, symbol, name, or other designation of a product; 2) a patent of a novel and useful invention or discovery; 3) a copyright of an original work of authorship, such as a book, computer program, graphic artwork or motion picture; and 4) a trade secret of confidential business information, including a computer programming code or other business formula. The use of trademarks, patents, copyrights and trade secrets protects one’s creative product, or intellectual property, from the unauthorized reproduction, distribution or use by one other than the property owner.
The Purpose of Intellectual Property Law
The protections offered by each type of intellectual property right are specifically designed to reward the author, inventor or creator. In addition, they are intended to support a free-flowing exchange of information and discussion of ideas, encouraging constant improvement in every industry and field of art. Intellectual property law limits conflict between competitors and promotes competition in an effort to benefit both commercial markets as well as intellectual and artistic ideas.
Regulation by Federal, State and International Law
Depending on the subject matter of the work, intellectual property rights are protected under a combination of federal, state and even international laws. The U.S. Constitution recognizes intellectual property in the Patent and Copyright Clause, which allows Congress the power to establish a system of patents and copyrights for the purpose of advancing science and the arts. Likewise, the Commerce Clause protects violations of trade secrets and trademarks (i.e., unfair competition) from having a negative effect on interstate commerce. States may regulate intellectual property as long as Congress has not yet otherwise provided a regulation in the same scope. As a global marketplace emerged in the 20th Century, the need for international protection of intellectual property came to the forefront in global discussions on trade. In response to this need, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) was created as an agency within the United Nations to monitor, regulate and control matters of intellectual property worldwide.
Intellectual Property and Unfair Competition
Intellectual property law is designed to eliminate unfair competition in commercial markets for every industry and field of art. The infringement of trademarks, appropriation of trade secrets, and deceptive marketing practices infringe on the freedom to compete fairly in a marketplace. While specifically focused on trademark law, the laws of unfair competition seek to provide remedies for victims of improper commercial practices. There are several areas of unfair competition recognized by U.S. law: 1) the deceptive marketing of goods through either misrepresentation or “passing off” of one’s goods as the goods of another; 2) the false advertising that confuses consumers and cause a business to lose sales; 3) criticism of another’s goods through a false or deceptive statement, intentionally causing economic harm; and 4) Wrongfully using a known trademark to market a product. Intellectual property law and the laws of unfair competition together seek to eliminate dishonest commercial practices and ensure the expansion of markets and ideas. An intellectual property attorney can help you understand the law and assist you with all of your concerns.
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