What Is Intellectual Property and Why Should You Protect It?

Over the years, with the digitalization of nearly everything — from music and movies to books, newspapers, and magazines — you have probably heard the term “intellectual property” or “IP” mentioned countless times. As we all know, especially in the earlier stages of this digital age, it was a lot easier to steal products and even ideas in their digital forms. However, as time has passed, companies and their brands have sought to protect their intellectual properties through the legal system, safeguarding it from being copied, stolen, or otherwise plagiarized. Here is a brief overview of intellectual property and why you should protect it as a business owner.

Intellectual Property: Definition

In its simplest terms, intellectual property represents the intangible creations of the human mind. The word “intangible” here seems to challenge businesses since their entire existence, including bottom lines and team interactions — even their products or services, are based on tangible, physical things that exist in reality and derive financial benefit. However, creations of the intellect are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than physical, tangible objects. In fact, in many cases, physical creations are the manifestation of these intellectual properties or, at the least, the IP serves as an inspiration for something more tangible.

Types of Intellectual Properties

There are many IP types, but the four basics are:

  • Copyrights: Used to protect original creations, such as writing, music, movies, art; issued by the Copyright Office
  • Trademarks: Relevant to brand names, product names, and other specific titles, symbols, or designs for businesses and their offerings; issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
  • Patents: Meant for the ideas that lead to the invention, manufacturing, and distribution of specific products; issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
  • Trade Secrets: Methods, formulas, or any other non-physical vital information that can be used for economic gain

In addition, franchises might also be considered intellectual properties on their own.

Why Protect IP

There are many reasons to protect IP through the legal process, but some of the more compelling reasons include:

  • Loss of support for research and development to foster more original ideas (if businesses, artists, inventors have their ideas stolen, they stand to lose compensation for those ideas, making future idea development less enticing)
  • Less economic prosperity for those who develop the original ideas, thus making businesses less competitive in the marketplace
  • Consumer confusion caused by too many companies or people selling the same products, creations, brand names, etc.

Contact a DuPage County Intellectual Property Lawyer

If you or your business need to protect certain intellectual property or want to strengthen your brand by protecting more of its intangible assets, consider beginning the process of securing IP rights through a qualified Wheaton, IL business attorney. The skilled legal team at Stock, Carlson & Duff LLC can provide you with a variety of different types of business solutions to fit your needs. Call us today at 630-665-2500 to learn more by scheduling a confidential consultation.


U.S. Copyright Laws

U.S. copyright laws, DuPage County Business Law AttorneyA federal judge recently ruled that when it comes to a copyright of a photo—or any other document—a monkey cannot own the legal rights. Yes, you are reading that correctly. The plaintiff in this case was a monkey.

The Copyright Act of 1976 is the federal law under which copyrights are protected. There are no state copyright laws, as these laws are prohibited under the Act. The law protects "works of authorship" and includes the following:

  • All stages of architectural works;
  • Audiovisual works and motion pictures, which can include documentaries, interactive multimedia, movies, television shows, television ads and training films.
  • Choreographic works;
  • Dramatic works such as operas or plays;
  • Graphic, pictorial, or sculptural works. The types of works that fall under this category include cartoons and their characters, drawings, graphic art, maps, paintings, photographs, statues, and stuffed animals;
  • Literary works, including novels, magazine and newspaper articles and poetry. It also includes business works such as advertisements, brochures, business directories, catalogs, and computer software (including manuals and other documentation); and
  • Sound recordings.

A copyright gives the owner of the property the rights to display, distribute, reproduce, and create new works based on the original (i.e. a film sequel). Under the law, the item to be copyrighted must be “fixed in a tangible medium of expression." This means that the item must exist somewhere in physical form. In other words, you cannot copyright ideas.

The lifetime of the copyright depends on when the work was published. Anything that was published in this country prior to 1923 is not protected under copyright laws and the work falls under public domain. For works published between 1923 to 1977, the copyright is valid for 95 years from the date of publication. For all works published after 1977, the copyright is valid for 70 years.

In the recent federal case, a nature photographer was working in Indonesia when a monkey got ahold of his camera and took a "selfie." The photograph quickly went viral and several online publications insisted the photograph was part of the public domain. However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) stepped in and insisted that the copyright of the photo actually belongs to the monkey. They filed the lawsuit on the animal's behalf.

The photographer, whose camera the monkey used, obtained a British copyright to the photo and he requested the federal court dismiss the lawsuit. The federal judge ruled that a monkey—or any other animal—cannot own a copyright and said the only institution that can change that would be Congress.

Although this case may seem as if it was a frivolous one, copyright infringement can be a serious problem. Contact an experienced DuPage County business law attorney for copyright questions or issues you may have. Call Stock, Carlson & Duff LLC at 630-665-2500 to schedule your consultation today.