Unless you're an intellectual property attorney you probably hold a number of misconceptions about patents, trademarks and copyrights. Don't feel bad if that's true for you. Most people don't need to be experts on the subject. Unfortunately, these misconceptions can lead you to run afoul of the law or to believe that you have rights that don't actually exist.
Here are five common intellectual property misconceptions that seem to come up frequently. If you need common sense, real world advice on the subject, contact a Texas patent attorney to learn more.
1. They didn't invent that, so how can they have a trademark for it?
A trademark is essentially a source identifier. When you see "Coke" or "Coca-Cola" on a bottle or advertisement, you know exactly which company made the product. This dovetails nicely with the fact that the Coca-Cola company also created their product. However, it's sometimes possible for someone to register a trademark for something that they didn't technically "create."
A notable instance of this occurred when the BBC registered a trademark for blue police boxes. The network had used a blue police box as a central component of their Dr. Who television series for decades. Even though the actual police call boxes were created by law enforcement agencies, a court ruled that people so closely associated modern images of the devices with the show that the BBC was entitled to hold the trademark.
2. You have to enforce your copyright every time you suspect infringement.
This is certainly true for trademarks, which the registration holder must defend vigorously. Copyright holders don't necessarily have to be so aggressive. That's why so many people are able to write fan fiction or design fan art based on popular characters without being contacted by attorneys. The copyright holder may not feel that their rights are being infringed. Still, they can choose to enact legal remedies if they choose.
3. Big corporations are trademark bullies.
Large corporations have many resources, and one of their most valuable assets is their trademarks. They've worked hard to build a recognizable brand and it's unfair, not to mention illegal, when others try to sell their products under that mark. The law enables trademark registrants to defend their rights, which is why it's always best for smaller companies to create their own distinctive trademarks. It's a much less expensive proposition in the long run, and it allows a startup to make a name for themselves.
4. If I'm not making money from it, it must be fair use.
Anyone who wants to freely distribute a video, text or other work that draws significantly on the creative work of others may not be protected under fair use. Whether or not money is made is not always an issue. For instance, it's unlikely you could legally post a movie online even if you first bought the film on DVD. That movie is still protected by copyright, and consumers don't have the right to distribute it. When it doubt, consult with an intellectual property attorney.
5. It isn't necessary to register a copyright anymore.
Actually, registering a copyright is still an exceptionally good idea. With a registered copyright you have the right to sue people who unlawfully use your work and you can collect monetary damages. While you don't have to register you will certainly have more legal rights if you do.
Contact the law office of Jeff Williams for a Free consultation or to learn more about patents, trademarks and copyrights. As an experienced patent attorney in Dallas and Houston Texas, Jeff is well qualified to offer guidance and advice about even the most complex intellectual property matters.
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