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Why Do We Have Intellectual Property?

Over the past several years, intellectual property (IP) has become a much more fashionable topic to discuss. Copyright and its effects on the internet and the rise in patent trolls have made it into the mainstream media. Even trademark law shows up more and more often, especially around this time of year. The NFL’s aggressive trademark enforcement policy is the reason stores hold “Big Game” sales. With IP showing up more and more in people’s everyday lives, it can be helpful for people to understand why the government protects it in the first place. One of the most important things to understand is the reason for copyrights and patents is different from the reason for trademark protection, but that both exist for the benefit of the general public, rather than the people who own the IP.

Copyrights & Patents

Copyright and patent protection stems from a specific clause in the Constitution that empowers Congress to protect the works of artists and inventors “to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” The idea behind this is that by protecting these innovative works, the government gives artists and inventors the incentive to create more of those works, which benefits society as a whole. Copyright and patent protection exist not to benefit the person who holds the rights, but to benefit the public at large. This raises a big consideration in intellectual property law, the balance between incentives and access.

The fundamental problem that this sort of IP law needs to solve is that the government wants to use people’s own desire to work for their own interests to better society. The law gives a limited right to innovators to control their own work, so that innovators can reap some of the profits of those innovations. Then, once the right expires, the public gains free access to it so that other people can build on it and make further improvements. If the IP rights are not strong enough, then fewer people will innovate, but if they are too strong, then the public loses its ability to benefit from those innovations.

Trademarks

Trademarks are a completely different style of intellectual property with different origins and a different purpose, designed to protect companies logos and other signifiers. While current trademark law is governed by a Congressional statute, the law of trademarks started as a part of the common law, law created by judges rather than by legislatures. The goal of trademark law is not like copyrights or patents. It is designed to be a source identifier rather than something that fosters innovation. The idea is that companies gain the exclusive right to use certain words, pictures, or colors in order to show consumers what company made the product or service.

That purpose implies one important similarity between trademarks and other forms of IP; the government awards these rights for the benefit of consumers and the general public rather than for the benefit of the companies who actually get the rights. Trademarks allow consumers to quickly determine where products come from, so that they can buy from the companies they like.

Intellectual property law is a broad, rapidly-changing field that affects more and more companies along with people in their everyday lives. If you or your company has an intellectual property issue, contact a Florida trademark and copyright attorney at Pike & Lustig, LLP today.

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