It’s not uncommon these days to hear people talking about intellectual property (IP), especially as it relates to the acquisitions and consolidation of IP by large companies. It is important to understand IP and make sure you are protecting your work and your business.
As CBLDF begins to broaden its legal scope, one of the areas we’ll be covering more of is IP. I thought a helpful first step would be to look at what IP is. The best way to do that is to take a look at the four types.
The Four Types
IP refers to the property derived from the work of the mind. This work is separated into four categories — trademark, copyright, patent, and trade secret. To break it down further, let’s look at what each category addresses.
- Trademark — A simple way to look at a trademark is to think of branding and what that entails. A trademark is a source identifier – it distinguishes goods or services sold by a person or company from those sold by someone else. This type of IP covers things like names, logos, and slogans.
- Copyright — Copyright protects original works of authorship. This category of IP encompasses artistic creations and includes comics, film, music, and computer programs.
- Patents — You can think of patents as inventions. Utility patents cover useful inventions, such as the functional technology in the toy Spider-Man web shooter that was the subject of a recent Supreme Court case. They can also include the less tangible, like a production process or technique. Design patents cover new ornamental aspects of useful objects, such as the visual appearance of a Minnie Mouse doll or the design of a manufactured Captain America’s shield.
- Trade Secrets — These are essential bits of information that have value, in part, because of their secrecy. Trade secrets include things like recipes and the algorithms used in programs, including in animation.
The categories of IP are not mutually exclusive. For example, a copyrighted graphic can also serve as a trademark and have design patent protection.
The Big Two — Trademark and Copyright
The two types of IP that are of most interest to the comics community are trademark and copyright.
Trademarks have become a lucrative source of revenue for comics companies and creators — a trademarked logo or graphic can be licensed for clothing, games, toys, charitable fundraising, and a host of other products or services. Although it is possible to have an unregistered trademark, federal registration provides stronger protection and the potential to win additional damages and attorney fees in a lawsuit. Trademark registration is valid for ten years, but there is no limit on how many times it can be renewed so long as the mark continues to be used in commerce.
An original work receives copyright protection from the moment of creation. One of the tricky issues with copyright is that it is not the ideas themselves that are copyrighted but how the ideas are expressed.
Although a work does not have to be registered with the Copyright Office to be copyrighted, the Supreme Court has ruled that copyright registration is required to file a copyright infringement lawsuit. Fortunately, copyright tends to be easier to register than a trademark, and it’s also less expensive. Copyright lasts seventy years after the death of the creator unless it is work for hire, in which case it lasts either for 95 years from the year it is published or 120 years from its year of creation, whichever is first.
The above is just a scratch on the surface of IP. In the coming months, we’ll be bringing you more IP coverage as it appears in the news, and we’ll have in-depth articles that cover some of the nuances of IP and how it relates to the comics community.
CBLDF is here to support you. If you need legal assistance or advice, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.