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       For informational purposes only. Always consult an attorney to obtain competent legal advice.

Patents, etc.

Patents, Trademarks & Copyright Law

Patents, Trademarks & Copyright Law

  • This is another area of federal law, an area that has been very controversial of late. Patents, trademarks and copyrights are legally recognized ownership of ideas, and are called "intellectual property" (IP).

  • Other kinds of intellectual property for which legal protection may be obtained include trademarks and copyrights.

  • More information can be found at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website:


  • The two main types of patents are “utility patents” and “design patents.”

  • Utility Patents: A utility patent is an inventor’s patent for any “new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” Once granted, it gives an inventor an exclusive right to the patent for 20 years.

  • After a patent expires, anyone may copy the patent (although they may not use any trademarks, such as product names, that belong to the company that held the patent).

  • A patent is “pending” after an application has been submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and before a decision has been made as to whether the patent application is granted or not. To be patentable, the idea must be clearly described, novel, useful, non-obvious, and not covered by a patent that has already been granted.


  • Design Patent: These types of patents, if granted, protect the specific “look and feel” or design of a product. A design patent may be for something as simple as a lamp, or may be for a design of a smartphone that can amount to billions of dollars of profits. (For example, Apple corp. sued Samsung for infringement of its “iPhone” design.)

  • A common way to avoid a claim of patent infringement is to “design around” -- that is, to change somewhat an existing design (or even an existing utility patent) that is patent protected.


Trademarks & Service Marks

  • A trademark, such as “Coca Cola” must be protected so that other companies are not allowed to confuse the public by offering products with similar names. Service marks are similar, but are generally applied to services rather than goods.



  • A novel, film, screenplay, the content of this website that was created by the author, or other writing is entitled to copyright protection. So is music or other recording. So is a photo or other image. A term paper may be copyrighted, articles and photos appearing in newspapers typically are copyrighted by the authors or their publishers.

  • Copyrights are maintained by the U.S. Copyright Office, which is under the Library of Congress. More information can be found at:

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