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Frequently Asked Questions about Intellectual Property

At the law firm of Sanders & Parks, our attorneys are committed to helping you protect your intellectual property. In addition to offering you assistance in protecting your ideas and creations, we want to offer you guidance on how to maximize their value. Our lawyers have been helping people in Phoenix, Arizona, and nationwide for more than 30 years. From intellectual property registration to intellectual property litigation, our experience can work for you.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Intellectual Property

Q: How do I know what form of intellectual property protection is available for my work?

A: The form of protection depends on the work. Generally, you should seek a trademark for a name, symbol or other device that distinguishes your product. Apply for a patent if you have made an invention or discovery that is new, non-obvious and useful. If you have produced an original work of authorship in a tangible medium of expression, such as a book, computer program, visual artwork or motion picture, copyright is the appropriate protection. Information that you keep confidential for the health of your business, such as a formula or source code, may find protection as a trade secret.

Q: How "original" does my work have to be to merit copyright protection?

A: Although the work must originate with you in order to be eligible for protection, it need not be pioneering to earn a copyright. The level of originality required for a copyright is met if the expression is new to author, regardless of whether someone else had a similar idea before. If you coincidentally write the same poem as someone halfway around the world, you both have the right to exclude others from copying your poems. If you copy someone else's poem, however, you have no copyright protection.

Q: How do I know if I can protect my business information as a trade secret?

A: Confidential information is likely to be protected as a trade secret if, by virtue of being secret, it is valuable to the business that owns it and if the owner takes reasonable measures to protect the secret under the circumstances.

Q: How much of my work is protected under a copyright?

A: A copyright protects only your expression — not the idea that underlies the expression. A biology textbook, therefore, may receive a lower degree of copyright protection than a work of fiction, because the expression in the textbook is constrained by the factual nature of scientific language. By providing only protection for expression and not for ideas, copyright law encourages authors to freely exchange and express information and ideas.

Q: How long can I receive protection for my invention under a patent?

A: The duration of a patent (typically 20 years from the date the application was filed) is designed to allow the patent owner a limited monopoly on the invention or discovery. It also encourages competition and ingenuity. Patent protection is stronger than copyright protection (typically the author's life plus 70 years), but it is shorter.

Q: Can I protect multiple but related works under the same registration?

A: Collections of works, such as certain types of information databases, may be protected as compilations under a single copyright. The works must be arranged in such a way that they form an original composition as a whole. Collective works, such as magazines and encyclopedias, whose copyrighted parts make up a whole, are also copyrightable.

Q: How can I prove that there has been an infringement on my copyright?

A: If the allegedly infringing work is substantially similar to yours and your work was accessible to others (through publication, for example), you may be able to show that the defendant copied your work. This is a fact-dependent issue. If the defendant independently produced the allegedly infringing work, however, without knowledge of either the existence or the content of your prior work, then the defendant may be able to show that it did not copy your work.

Q: Are there specialized courts in the United States that hear intellectual property claims?

A: The U.S. does not have courts that are exclusively dedicated to hearing intellectual property matters. Rather, intellectual property claims are usually brought in federal district court to be presided over by that court's judge. While these judges are not charged with the specific knowledge of intellectual property matters, many have become intimately familiar with the principles and issues involved.

Q: What is required for me to pursue an action for the appropriation of a trade secret?

A: When a trade secret has been misappropriated and used by someone who is not entitled to it, you may wish to pursue legal action. Trade secret litigation can result in an injunction, damages or both. In order to win damages, you will need to show that the defendant's use of the trade secret caused you harm or unfairly provided the defendant with financial advantages.

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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