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  • Writer's pictureLeslie A. Farber

Protecting Intellectual Property

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

The five-year court battle between Apple and Samsung has shone a light on the complex issues surrounding intellectual property. It was the first patent case to reach the Supreme Court in over a century, and the justices’ recent ruling to reverse a lower court decision forcing Samsung to pay damages for violating Apple design patents means that the case will continue to make headlines.

From literary works to business logos, humans are always inventing things. Many of their creations are intellectual property and protected in law. Intellectual property provides an incentive to inventors to produce works for the benefit of society by regulating the public's use of these works. This allows people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they create and fosters an environment in which innovation can flourish.

The laws protecting intellectual property traditionally fall into four categories: patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is responsible for issuing and monitoring federally registered patents and trademarks, but trademarks may also be regulated by state law. Copyrights are regulated by federal law and trade secrets are primarily regulated at the state level.

While each of these categories is complex, here is a brief summary:

  • Patent: An exclusive right granted for an invention, which can range from computer software and medical devices to furniture and fabrics. A patent gives the patent holder the power to prevent others from making, using, importing and selling their innovation for a limited period of time. These exclusive rights are generally only applicable in the country or region in which a patent has been granted, unless recognized by internationally treaty.

  • Copyright: Protection that allows authors, artists and other creators to produce original works without fear of someone else copying and profiting from their work. This can include downloading or sharing copyrighted works over the internet, regardless of whether it is done for profit. Changing technology has expanded the scope of works covered by copyright to include books, music, paintings and sculpture as well as architectural design, software programs, databases, graphic arts, motion pictures and sound recordings. Protection extends only to tangible forms of expression, not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts. Copyrights must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to be enforceable.

  • Trademark: An indispensable tool in today's business world, a trademark is any word, phrase, logo and/or symbol used to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another. Shapes, sounds, fragrances and colors may also be registered as trademarks. To be eligible for trademark protection, a mark must be in use in commerce and it must be distinctive. Although federal registration is not required to establish rights to a trademark, it will confer an exclusive right to the use of the trademark and reinforce the position of the owner, for example, in case of litigation. The term of trademark registration can vary, but usually is 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely.

  • Trade Secret: Any sensitive business information or process that derives value from not being generally known and is subject to reasonable efforts to preserve confidentiality. Trade secrets are typically protected by nondisclosure agreements. New Jersey, which is one of the many states that have adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, refers to the theft of trade secrets as misappropriation and is considered a form of unfair competition. Under New Jersey law, a trade secret thief can be prevented from disclosure by court order. A victim of trade secret theft can also seek financial compensation. In addition to state rules, certain federal rules also apply in New Jersey. For example, the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 makes the theft of trade secrets a federal crime.

If you have any questions about this information or any other legal issues, please call me at 973-509-8500 x213 or email me at:

The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.

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