Virtually everybody knows something about property. If you own a home, you know something about real property. And you probably know something about personal property. That's the things you probably have in your house. These are tangible things. That's how we think of property in most cases, but what about intangible property? What about the things that are invisible that we want to consider property? We call those things intellectual property, and there's a body of law that helps define what intellectual property is that we call intellectual property law.
So intellectual property law is broken down into five major groups. There's patent law, which most people have heard of. Patents protect useful, utilitarian devices. They need to be novel, things that have not been done before. Patents would have been used to protect printing technologies in the industrial revolution. They would've been used to protect the cotton gin, for separating cotton from seeds. And now, they're used to protect computer software, applications, pharmaceuticals, consumer products.
Trademarks, on the other hand, this is an area of intellectual property law that protects the brand name of things. So, it's what you call the product. It's what you call your company. It's the slogan that you use for your company. It's the design of the logo that you use. In some cases, it's the colors that you use. This is covered under intellectual property law subcategory called trademark law. Copyright law covers original works of authorship that have become fixed in tangible form.
So, a book, a poem a painting, video, photography, computer code. These are all things that are original works of authorship that have become fixed in tangible form. So we covered those under the, the subheading of copyright law. There's an area of intellectual property law called trade secret law. Trade secret is a body of law that protects anything that has value and has been kept secret. We've probably heard of the secret formula to Coke. Big companies have secret formulas for weed killers and pesticides.
Trade secret might cover the secret formula to the Colonel Sanders secret recipe for crispy chicken. That's trade secret law. And finally, rights of publicity is a rather new area of intellectual property law that covers the right somebody has in their name, their likeness, their persona, and even their voice. So, these are what we call intellectual property law.
The information in this course applies only to the United States.
DISCLAIMER: This course is taught by an attorney and addresses U.S. law concepts that may not apply in all countries. Neither LInkedIn nor the attorney teaching the course represent you and they are not giving legal advice. The information conveyed through this course is similar to a college or law school course; it is not intended to give legal advice, but instead to communicate basic information to help viewers understand the basics of intellectual property.
- What is intellectual property?
- What is a copyright?
- How long do copyrights last?
- Trademarking your brand
- Trademark infringement
- Patenting your ideas
- Defending trade secrets
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
Skill Level Intermediate
Q: Can a provisional be extended?
A: No. The provisional is only good for one year and it must be followed by a nonprovisional application by the end of that 12 months, or it will not only mean you can't get protection for the idea, but that others will be free to practice it after that. A provisional that is not followed by a nonprovisional effectively makes the subject of the provisional public domain.
Q: If the full utility is "held up" in the patent office and is not secured before the provisional expires, does that make your idea unpatentable?
A: See the "Can a provisional be extended?" FAQ. If you file a provisional and then do not file a nonprovisional within a year (what is called a full-utility patent application) then you are done. There is no protection.
Q: The course mentions that discussing an idea with someone without a signed NDA "starts the 12-month clock" on making your idea public domain. Is this true?
A: If you have not filed any patent application at all, and you disclose your idea without an NDA (say you show it at a trade show or put it on a website), then you must file a patent within 12 months of that disclosure. The reason is that the patent must be novel, meaning there's no prior art out there that speaks to your invention. If you disclose something prior to filing, then your own disclosure makes your later patent NON-novel. You ruin novelty by disclosing the idea. However, the US gives you a safe harbor of 12 months from your disclosure to get your patent filed; so your disclosure within 12 months is not considered a bar to novelty for that period. But, after 12 months, the disclosure by you (or anyone) of the subject matter will become a bar to your patent insofar as it makes the patent not novel.
Q: Does disclosure make an idea unpatentable?
A: A disclosure more than 12 months prior (or provisional past 12 months) will present a major obstacle to patentability because it becomes prior art. It must be disclosed in the patent application, and to the extent that what was disclosed is the same as what you want to patent, it will likely be an obstacle. In some cases, you can add new inventive features to something that was in an expired provisional patent, or to something that was disclosed ... as long as what is new is novel and is not obvious in light of the prior disclosure or prior expired provisional patent.
A: Could your utility patent be revoked even if the people you discussed your idea with kept it confidential? (In other words, is an idea you talked about 12+ months ago unpatentable because you talked about it?)
A: Generally, if the subject has not disclosed, then it is arguably still protectable and patentable. You don't have have a signed nondisclosure, but a knowledge of the confidentiality and an obligation to keep it confidential. If you gave an open talk at a trade show about it, and it happens that no one talked about it, you still have a disclosure problem. If you told your friend about it and she hasn't told anyone, then it is probably still confidential and not disclosed.