Infringement of intellectual property rights causes and consequences are issues that every business should be aware of.  Intellectual property (IP) is an often over-looked or underappreciated asset that practically every business owns in some form, and this is particularly true for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

One reason that IP is often undervalued is because the term itself covers a wide array of property, and it’s often not tangible property, like land or equipment, but is instead created by a person’s intellect or through a unique talent. It can include things such as musical compositions, written material, inventions, artwork, or even trade secrets. They are the creations of composers, authors, inventors, graphic designers, artists, fashion designers, or anyone who comes up with an idea that is unique and can have market value.

Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property law protects the rights of ownership according to several classifications:

  • Copyrights: Copyrights are legal rights given to the creators of works that exist in a tangible form, such as paintings, written articles or books, musical compositions, photographs, films, software, and even public performances. It’s not about ideas, but the form that an idea takes. Acquiring copyright protection prevents other parties from using the work without authorization. The U.S. Copyright Office grants copyright protection.
  • Trademarks:  Trademarks and service marks can be words, designs, and even expressions that are used to identify a company or product/service to set it apart from other companies or products/services. Trademarks and service marks are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Trademark applications involve designating the goods/services on which the mark will be used, and establishing that the mark is not in use for commercial purposes.
  • Patents:  Patents are exclusive rights granted to an individual or company to prevent others from using, selling, or assigning an invention by the USPTO.  There are strict definitions as to what can and cannot be patented. Patent attorneys are usually required to assist inventors with patent applications.

Protecting Your IP from Infringement

Intellectual property rights granted by either the U.S. Copyright Office or the USPTO serve an important function. They protect against intellectual property infringement or, in other words, the use of the property without the consent of the owner. For instance, owning a trademark registration prevents competitors from attaching the same trademark to one of their own products.

There are many types of IP infringement. Remedies can vary, depending upon the type of intellectual property that is infringed or the degree of value placed upon the property. In some cases the infringement of intellectual property can be deemed a criminal act.

If you suspect that your intellectual property rights have been infringed, you should contact an experienced IP attorney. There are several options available to you to protect your rights.

Identify the Infringing Party

It is not always easy to locate the person or company that is infringing upon your IP rights. It may involve a great deal of research, especially if the material is being used on the Internet, although sometimes it is possible to compel a service provider to give up the name of the offending website’s owner.

Contact the Infringing Party

The first step is usually to reach out to the party suspected of infringing with a “cease and desist” letter that informs them that you have discovered their unauthorized use of your property and tells them to immediately stop using it. The letter should specify the property being infringed, the action necessary to stop the infringement and the time frame for doing so.

If you own copyrighted digital materials that are protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA, you are permitted to send what is called a “takedown” notice.  While similar to a cease and desist letter, the takedown notice is used when the copyright material appears on the Internet.

Take the Infringing Party to Court

If all else fails, it may be necessary to go to court. Again, an experienced IP attorney can help you determine the proper venue. For instance, patent and trademark infringement cases are typically heard in federal courts, although if the trademark is only registered in one state and not with the USPTO the case will be heard in a state court. Copyright infringement cases may be civil or criminal matters.

It is important that entrepreneurs recognize the value of their intellectual property and act in a vigilant manner to guard against other parties using the property without permission.

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