Managing innovative ideas in Corpus Christi, Texas requires the participation of several individuals during different stages of an enterprise. Sometimes you need technical experts, marketing services, financing, consultants, suppliers, and business partners. But an intellectual property attorney can also play a critical role. Alex R. Hernandez, Jr. PLLC is proud to provide competent legal services in the exciting realm intellectual property law in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “intellectual property” as “(a) category of intangible rights protecting commercially valuable products of the human intellect. The category comprises primarily trademark, copyright, and patent rights, but also includes trade secret rights, publicity rights, moral rights, and rights against unfair competition.”
Many of us have great ideas and work very hard to develop them into fruition. If you’ve got a great idea, but don’t know how to protect it, read on for some information that might be helpful. If you decide you’d like to take some action toward protecting your idea but don’t have time to handle it on your own, reach out to one of our attorneys for a consultation!
Our law office can help you with copyrights, patents, and trademarks, but if you’re just here for some general information, we’ll start with some basic definitions.
Invention: An invention is any art or process (way of doing or making things), machine, manufacture, design, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, or any variety of plant, which is or may be patentable under the patent laws of the United States.
Patents: A patent for an invention is a government authority or license conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention. This property right is issued by the Patent and Trademark Office. A new patent runs for a term of 20 years, starting from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States. (In certain cases, the 20-year term can start from the date an earlier related application was filed, subject to the payment of maintenance fees.) United States patent grants cover your right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention only within the United States, its territories, and possessions. Of course, one may pursue a patent outside of the United States but this would need to be done referencing that nation’s patent laws.
Copyrights: Title 17 of the United States Code outlines United States copyright law. It states, in relevant part, that “copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories: (1) literary works; (2) musical works, including any accompanying words; (3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music; (4) pantomimes and choreographic works; (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works; (7) sound recordings; and (8) architectural works” and goes on to state in section (b) that “in no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” Although the term of a copyright can change based on certain factors, as a general rule, protection for works created after January 1, 1978 lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.
Trademarks: A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another and to indicate the source of the goods. A trademark is not required to be registered, but registering one has some advantages like diminishing the burden of proof should infringement become an issue, review of your trademark so that you know it is not similar to any other registered trademarks, and ensuring another company doesn’t use a similar trademark. A registered trademark has a term of 10 years and is renewable every 10 years.
Trade Secrets: The term “trade secret” means all forms and types of financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information, including patterns, plans, compilations, program devices, formulas, designs, prototypes, methods, techniques, processes, procedures, programs, or codes, whether tangible or intangible, and whether or how stored, compiled, or memorialized physically, electronically, graphically, photographically, or in writing if (A) the owner thereof has taken reasonable measures to keep such information secret; and (B) the information derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information. As long as the secret is kept, it is protected from third parties.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s move on to examples of intellectual property infringement. Per Black’s Law Dictionary and case law, infringement is “a breaking into; a trespass or encroachment upon; a violation of a law, regulation, contract, or right. Used especially of invasions of the rights secured by patents, copyrights, and trademarks.” Some examples of infringement are as follows:
Patent infringement: A person manufactures another person’s product – covered by a patent – without their permission. They offer that product for sale. They actually sell that product. They induce someone to do any of these things or supply them with a part to help them do so.
Copyright infringement: Someone uses music videos in their own YouTube videos outside of what constitutes fair use. Someone illegally downloads a movie or video game or goes to a movie theater and records a movie. Someone uses a photographer’s photos on their advertising materials without the photographer’s permission.
Trademark infringement: A shoe company uses the Nike “swoosh” or a too-similar mark on its new sneaker. A new brand of facial tissue calls itself a type of “Kleenex”. I.e., a mark or phrase with respect to a product that has been widely recognized as identifying that product is used to identify another product.
Trade Secret infringement: A computer programmer steals a company program and sells it to a competing company. An employee leaves a company but before they do, they put that company’s client list on a thumb drive and use those clients instead of their own to create their own similar business.
If someone has infringed on your intellectual property rights, we’d like you to know we can help you put a stop to the activity and/or receive compensation for what’s rightfully yours and protected. We can send a cease and desist letter to stop the offender from using your work and describe the action you want taken to make the infringement stop, within a proper deadline. If the offender won’t stop, we can take further legal action, such as filing an injunction application to get a court order stopping the infringement. We can file a lawsuit to get you back any money you lost due to the offender’s conduct, some or all of the profits the offender made from using your idea, and the attorney’s fees you had to spend to enforce your rights and stop the infringement.
On the flipside, if you are accused of inadvertently infringing on someone’s else’s intellectual property rights, we can determine the validity of their claim, determine if, let’s say you’re accused of copyright infringement, your use of copyright-protected work falls under the fair use provision of Section 107 of the United States Copyright Act. We can determine whether you can ignore the accusation or if you need to stop using the content to avoid further legal action.
It’s not all about protection after you’ve finished developing your idea though. I mean, it seems easy to avoid infringing on someone’s intellectual property rights if you know there is already an existing product or idea similar to yours, but it’s not exactly easy to know if someone miles away from you has already thought of your idea when it’s still in the works. That’s why a good intellectual property lawyer can take care of protecting you right from the start.
For example, an attorney knows how to conduct the proper searches for similar ideas, marks, phrases, etc. so you can fine-tune your idea before you get too far into the development process. A good intellectual property attorney knows when to begin submitting documents for protection so that there’s less of a delay in activity. We know the deadlines, the applicable law, and have access to some great resources to keep things moving so you can get your ideas protected right from the start. If you plan to start producing a product, we can draft any applicable agreements with your customers and employees to make sure your ideas stay in-house.
We’re excited to provide intellectual property legal services in Corpus Christi – let us help you through the process of developing and protecting your ideas! If you need help defending your use of content against accusations of infringement, give us a call! Alex R. Hernandez, Jr. is here to help! Call us today at 361-454-1000
 Black’s Law Dictionary (Second Pocket Ed. 2011).
 35 U.S. Code §100
 17 U.S.C. § 101
 15 U.S.C. § 1127
 18 U.S.C. § 90
 Goodyear Shoe Machinery Co. v. Jackson, 112 Fed. 140, 50 C. C. A. 159, 55 L. R. A. 092; Thomson-Houston Electric Co. v. Ohio Brass Co., 80 Fed. 721, 20 C. C. A. 107.