Copyright protection is secured automatically when a work is created and reduced to a concrete form such as in a copy or phonorecord. Thus, registration of a work with the United States Copyright Office is not a condition of copyright protection. Registration does, however, bestow several advantages upon the copyright owner. These include federal jurisdiction, establishment of a public record of the copyright claim, and presumption of the validity and ownership of the copyright. Registration is a prerequisite to filing a copyright infringement action. Additionally, a timely registration is required for recovery of statutory damages and attorney’s fees in an infringement action.
Registration of a copyright with the United States Copyright Office may be made at any time during the life of the copyright.
A patent is a written or pictorial description of new and novel ornamental aspects of an object, asexually reproduced plant varieties, and machines, articles of manufacture, compositions of matter (chemical), and methods. The heart of the patent is the description of the invention in the claims.
Patent protection is not, according to common belief, governmental clearance and approval to practice what is claimed in the patent. To the contrary, patent protection provides inventors, for a limited period of time, the right to prevent others from making, using, selling, or importing the subject matter claimed in the patent. This is so because one invention may only be an improvement on an invention another party has previously secured the rights. If the invention is only an improvement, practicing it could automatically be an act of infringement. Patents are not self-enforcing, but rather must be asserted by the patent owner against infringers.
A trademark is any word, design, scent, name, sound, or other thing that is capable of distinguishing one person’s or company’s goods or services from another’s, and indicating that such “branded” goods or services come from a single source - even if that source is unknown. A trademark or service mark provides a “shortcut” for customers to identify products and services offered by a business. Common law trademark rights develop upon use as a trademark in the geographic area of use.
Additional rights can be secured by federally registering the mark such as nationwide rights, use of the ®, exclusion of goods with infringing marks by US customs, presumption of the right to use the mark, federal jurisdiction, and special statutory remedies.
Trade Secrets are governed by state rather than federal law. While this creates some degree of geographical variation in the treatment of trade secrets, most states have based their trade secret laws on the Uniform Trade Secret Act and are, therefore, fairly uniform in their treatment of trade secrets. Under Minnesota law a trade secret is information that has economic value because it is not known to or available to others who can obtain economic value from its use or disclosure.
Reasonable efforts must be made to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret. Trade secrets are valuable business assets as they can provide broader and longer lasting protection than a copyright or patent.