How intellectual property law has evolved

Texas residents may be surprised to learn that intellectual property law dates back to 1623. That was the year that the British Parliament voted on the Statute of Monopolies, which granted the inventor of new devices and technologies sole control over their design and production. The passing centuries have seen intellectual property rights evolve to become a highly specialized and complex area of the law, and the information age has made protecting intellectual property crucial for modern companies. Infringement of these rights, both domestically and internationally, costs businesses and the economy billions of dollars every year.

In colonial America, each colony had intellectual property laws, but these were unenforceable outside the colony concerned. To address this issue, the U.S. Constitution granted the federal government authority over intellectual property and prevented the states from interfering. The next important stage in American intellectual property law occurred in 1834 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that works of writing could be protected. The Berne Convention of 1886 added international protection, and the length of time that copyrights are protected in America has now been extended in some cases to up to 70 years after the author has died.

Today there are three ways that intellectual property can be protected. Patents provide similar protections as the 1623 British law, and they must be registered. Trademarks protect logos and catchphrases while copyrights protect written work, software, music and film. Trademarks and copyrights do not have to be registered, and they are enforced by a use-based rule. When a dispute occurs, the parties involved must prove that they were the originator of the work in question in order to prevail.

Intellectual property is frequently among the most valuable assets of modern companies, and protecting it can both prevent infringement and encourage investors. Attorneys with experience in this area could vigorously pursue those who infringe on copyrights, trademarks and patents, and they may also provide assistance with the wording of nondisclosure provisions inserted into employment and other business agreements.

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