There’s a lot more to technology than the technology itself. When people think of the FBI, they think of cases filled with Medicare fraud defense attorneys, hacking, or international drug rings. But did you know that the FBI routinely investigates intellectual property thieves, such as the current controversy over from China’s theft of American patents and copyrights.
Intellectual property legislation is one of those things that isn’t seen unless you’re looking for it, but once you are it’s everywhere.
Think of IP law as the nitrogen of the digital world and software as the oxygen.
Although we all think of oxygen when we think of a breathable atmosphere, Nitrogen makes up more than 78% of the air that we breath.
The Four Branches of IP Law
All in all, there are four main focus areas for intellectual property: patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets.
For most people, all you’ll ever have to worry about our patents and copyrights, but it’s smart to familiarize yourself with each of the main areas.
These are given out by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and cover anything physical.
For example, the design of a motorcycle or the mechanical parts that form its engine could each be covered by various forms of patents.
The United States Copyright Office handles these. A general rule of thumb is that copyrights cover written material and text, whereas a patent could cover what that text was written on.
For example, a Kindle can be patented whereas the book that you’re reading on the Kindle can be copyrighted.
Trademarks cover just about any and all symbols and catchphrases. See the apple on the back of your iPhone? That’s a trademarked logo.
These are the trickiest of all of the four focus areas to understand. Suffice it to say that trade secrets cover the way in which your business does things.
Software and Hardware
How does intellectual property legislation affect the digital world? Primarily through regulations on software and hardware.
Software, for the most part, can be boiled down to its code.
That code can then be copyrighted (or, in some cases, patented) in order to prevent anybody else from editing, distributing, or otherwise doing anything with it without your consent. But, of course, the software has to go somewhere or else it’s just lined on a screen.
That’s where hardware comes in. Hardware is almost never protected by copyright laws, but rather falls under the protection of various patents.
This means that it is quite possible that a technology firm will have to have its lawyers secure both patents and copyrights in order to fully protect their inventions from the competition.
The Patent and Copyright Process
The patent process can be a long and grueling process, with the patent cost alone set you back upwards of $40,000 and take countless hours of filing and filling out paperwork just to receive a stock rejection letter 24 to 30 months later.
Copyrights, on the other hand, can be secured in as little as 4 to 8 weeks in some cases and typically only require that you fill out a single form.
Provided that you fill out the form properly, meet the requirements, and send the form to the correct address, you’ll pass the application process.
The reason why the patent process takes so much longer than copyrights can be chalked up to a variety of causes, including the facts that the bureaucrats are not known for their speed or attention to detail, patents are significantly more complex than copyrights, and pro se applicants (i.e., people who apply without the help of a lawyer) tend to go about the whole process all wrong.
Should You Hire a lawyer?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes, but with a much larger gray area.
When you need advice on healthcare, you call a doctor. When you need to know how to fix a lamp, you call an electrician. So why, when you need help navigating a process as complex as patent law, would you not call a lawyer?
Lawyers can make the patent process take significantly less time and money while simultaneously increasing your odds of having your patent accepted.
Pro se applicants typically don’t have the legal background or connections required to ensure that less-than-perfect applications still get pushed through to the right people.
By hiring a lawyer, not only do you increase your chances of securing your patent, but you also decrease the risk of the fees and costs of the application process totaling well over $40,000. At the end of the day, it comes down to the decision between a few thousand dollars in legal fees and tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary filing fees.
Not everything in the digital world is digital. In fact, as our lives become more and more digital, the world around us becomes more and more dependent on hardware and physical manifestations of our new and improved technologies.
Underlying each of those wonderful new technologies is a patent, copyright, trademark, or trade secret protecting it from the natural market forces that would otherwise lead to its rapid obsolescence or worse: it’s illicit duplication.
Now that you know how intellectual property functions in the digital world, put that knowledge to use in whatever way that you can in order to ensure a better financial future for yourself; and, if you have any questions, don’t forget to call a lawyer.