Intellectual property covers three specific types of protections: copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Each of these areas of intellectual property law protects different things, and each has its own requirements and procedures to receive protection. In FindLaw's IP Forms and Contracts section, you can find forms and other sample documents pertaining to intellectual property, including a sample nondisclosure agreement, sample software licenses provisions, and other related resources. You can also find an article listing questions to consider before registering your trademark and a checklist of documents to collect before obtaining a trademark for your business name.
Copyrights are available for original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form. Copyright protection can be provided to many creative works including literary works, paintings, software, live performances, sound recordings, photographs, movies, and musical works. It's important to remember that copyright laws protect the actual work, not the underlying ideas, techniques, concepts, or facts. This is the reason why a work must first be fixed in a tangible form (such as a story written on paper) in order to receive copyright protection.
When a work receives copyright protection, the copyright owner has certain exclusive rights over the work. He or she can sell the work, reproduce the work, create derivative works (works based on the original work), and display or perform the work publicly. The copyright owner also has the right to transfer all or part of his or her exclusive rights in the form of a complete transfer of ownership or by granting a license.
Patents are the only type of intellectual property that must be registered with the federal government - more specifically with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) - in order to receive protections afforded by patent law. Patents protect inventions and new discoveries and come in three forms: utility, design, and plant patents. Utility patents are the most common type of patent and are available for new or improvements to processes, machines, manufactures, and compositions of matter. Design patents protect new and non-obvious "surface ornamentations" or configurations of an object. Finally, plant patents are available for inventions or discoveries or new and distinct plants that can be reproduced asexually.
Trademark protection is available for names, words, devices, symbols, or short phrases that are used in connection with goods and/or services. This is an important form of protection for businesses as it allows them to distinguish their goods and/or services from other businesses in their field. Trademark protection can be acquired through the legitimate use of the mark in association with goods and/or services, which means that registration with the USPTO is not required to receive trademark protection.
Hiring an Attorney
Intellectual property can be a technical and complex area of law for most people to understand. For questions related to trademarks you can contact a trademarks attorney, while questions about copyrights can be directed to an intellectual property attorney. As for patents, they usually require a technical background in addition to knowledge of the law, so it's best to contact a patent attorney for assistance or guidance with patents.