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Legal Memorandum: Principles of Intellectual Property Law

Issue: GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAW

Area of Law: Intellectual Property Law
Keywords: Patents, Copyright; Trademarks and service marks
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: 35 U.S.C. § 361, 161, 171, 101; 17 U.S.C. § 102(a), § 102(b); 15 U.S.C. § 1053, 1127
Date: 07/01/2006

Generally, properly registered patents protect an inventor’s exclusive ownership rights in the use of his invention.  35 U.S.C. § 361 (“[P]atents shall have the attributes of personal property.”).  Federal law recognizes three distinct types of patents.  First, plant patents protect the invention or discovery of distinct and new plant varieties.  35 U.S.C. § 161.  Second, design patents recognize ownership rights in “any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.” 35 U.S.C. § 171.  Finally, and far and away the most common, utility patents ensure that “[w]hoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor.”  35 U.S.C. § 101. 

Unlike patent protection, copyrights protect “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated,” including such works as literature, music, and “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”  17 U.S.C. § 102(a).  Copyright protection, however, is unavailable “to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, of discovery.”  Id. § 102(b).

Trademarks and service marks are very important business assets.  After all, many consumers choose the goods services they acquire by identification with recognizable trademarks and service marks.  Under federal law, trademarks and service marks differ slightly, but each is entitled to identical protection when properly registered.  15 U.S.C. § 1053.  A trademark is “any word, name, symbol or device” used to refer […]