Protecting Your Best Ideas
Intellectual property law is growing and changing. The need for intellectual property planning and effective legal representation is also growing. At Showalter Law Firm, in Richmond, Texas, our lawyers have extensive experience helping creators meet their copyright and trademark needs.
Our trademark and copyright attorneys can help you with:
- Obtaining copyright registration for original works of all kinds
- Advising on the parameters of ownership rights
- Advising on copyright infringement
- Negotiating and preparing agreements to resolve copyright and trademark controversies
- Litigating effectively to protect our clients’ rights in infringement disputes
Copyright protection begins when the work is first written down or otherwise recorded and generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
Copyrights are conferred by federal law under a constitutional provision. They are intended to protect:
- Literary works, book authorship, professional articles
- Songs, musical arrangements and audiovisual productions
- Plays, dance routines and dramatic works
- Paintings, drawings and pictorial works
- Architectural blueprints
- Computer programs
The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute copies of the copyrighted work, and to prepare derivative works such as adaptations and translations based on the copyrighted work. If the work can be performed, such as a musical or dramatic work, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to perform it publicly. For work that can be displayed, such as a picture, sculpture or motion picture, the copyright owner may prevent others from displaying the work without the owner’s permission. All of these rights are subject to the doctrine of fair use, which permits limited use of copyrighted works for certain beneficial purposes such as teaching and research without the permission of the copyright owner.
Because a copyright is considered to be property, it may be sold and licensed. Claims to copyright may be registered in the Copyright Office, a branch of the Library of Congress, located in Washington, D.C. When a copyrighted work is published, copyright owners should place a notice of copyright on the copies of the work as a warning to would-be copiers. Such notice may consist of a “c” enclosed by a circle, the date (at least the year) and the name of the copyright owner. The work should be promptly registered with the Copyright Office in order to provide significant enhancement of protection of legal rights. Registration before or within 90 days of infringement is critical.
Creators of intellectual property have the right to reclaim their rights through the reversion process even if the rights were signed away years ago. Hire competent counsel to assist with this complex process.
Trademarks are words or logos used to distinguish goods from those made or sold by someone else. Words and logos used in the sale of services, such as those offered by service companies, professional sports teams and musical groups are called service marks.
By using a trademark or service mark in the sale of goods or services, the owner of a mark acquires the right to exclude others from using a similar mark on other products in a way that is likely to confuse the purchasing public. Because of the time and effort invested in building public goodwill in a product and the mark, this is a valuable right to a business entity. Trademark protection also protects the public from confusion, from buying something which they believe to be one thing when in fact it is something else.
Trade secret laws protect against theft of business ideas and methods. A trade secret is an idea or information that has commercial value because it is not widely known. Trade secrets include business methods, processes, machines, formulas, patterns and techniques that are kept secret from one’s business competitors.
Trade secret protection is acquired as soon as the idea or information is created and lasts for as long as the information is protected as, and remains, a secret, under applicable statutory provisions. Trade secrets are protected primarily by the laws of the states. Protection is available against anyone who steals the secret or uses it without permission. Many states have criminal statutes outlawing theft of trade secrets.
Although trade secret protection is potentially perpetual, it does not prevent someone else from discovering the information independently by proper means, such as reverse engineering of a product that has been sold on the open market. However, applicable copyright or patent laws may supersede the right to use a reverse engineering discovery.