Intellectual Property Law FAQs

Our clients usually have questions when they come to us for assistance. However, some questions get asked more than others. Below you’ll find clarification for some of the most confusing issues in the world of intellectual property law.

What’s the difference between a corporate name and a trademark?

A corporate name is a company’s “official” name. When you start a business and incorporate it, this is the name that you register with the Secretary of State. It’s commonly used for banking, tax, and legal matters.

Trademarks, on the other hand, are generally meant for the public. A trademark can be a word, phrase, symbol, logo, or even a scent, and it’s mainly used to identify the company’s products and services in the marketplace.

For example, “T.J.Maxx” is a trademark for the retail department store chain. However, its official company name is “The TJX Companies, Inc.” Obviously, the public is mostly familiar with the former.

I know that the United States Patent and Trademark Office awards trademark registrations. Does that mean I can bring a trademark infringement suit there?

While the USPTO does handle trademark registrations, it does not serve as a forum for infringement suits. That must take place in a court of law.

You can potentially challenge the registration of a trademark at the USPTO. This might involve filing an opposition or a petition to cancel, for example. However, no monetary damages or attorney’s fees can be awarded in this scenario.

Is copyright registration really necessary?

Certain works are, in fact, protected by copyright law once they’ve been created and fixed in a tangible format. This affords you, the author, with rights.

In order to enforce those rights, however, you need to have registered your work with the United States Copyright Office – or at least provided proof that you tried to register and were refused. For this reason, it’s often a good idea to register copyrighted works that are valuable to you.

Is computer software protected by copyright or patent law?

This topic can be quite confusing, even to some within the legal community. However, generally speaking, both copyrights and patents can (potentially) apply to software. It really depends which aspect of the software you’re trying to protect.

A patent can cover algorithms and many other functional software components. However, a copyright might only offer protection for a software program’s source or object code, along with the software’s “look and feel.” If you’re interested in protecting software you’ve developed, it can be helpful to consult with an intellectual property attorney that is tech-savvy.

If two different people come up with the same invention, does the person who had the idea first always have the superior right to patent it?

Not necessarily. That’s because the United States switched from a “first-to-invent” patent system to a “first-to-file” system in 2013.

Suppose that you invent a new stapler. Competitor X comes up with the same idea a year later. If Competitor X applies for a patent before you do, you’ll be out of luck – even though you invented the stapler first.

The takeaway? It’s usually not a good idea to drag your feet if you think your invention is truly valuable.