Intellectual Property

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Fulmer, May and Stuckey, Alabama Attorneys should be considered if you need any professional and expert legal assistance regarding intellectual property law. Find out more about this tricky and challenging area of the law and how we can help you no matter how difficult or complicated your situation may be.

As an Alabama attorney firm, based in Birmingham, Fulmer, May and Stuckey understand how important it is to you as a creative professional or organization to protect your intellectual property. We know that it is quite literally the lifeblood of your operation. We are a firm of highly experienced Birmingham, Alabama lawyers who have specialist training in the area of intellectual property law. Our IP attorneys are fully versed and up to date in this ever-changing area of law.

We have the knowledge and experience to handle issues relating to all forms of intellectual property, the most common of which are trademarks, patents, copyrights and trade secrets. Before we discuss in greater detail the different areas of intellectual property law, let’s look at what intellectual property is.

What is Intellectual Property?

As you may already know, but just so that you’re sure, intellectual property is a type of property that includes both tangible, physical creations of human intellect and those that are intangible and do not necessarily have much in the way of a physical form. There are exclusivity rights for these properties that are legally granted. Assets that can be assigned the designation of IP or intellectual property, include:

  • Symbols
  • Phrases
  • Designs
  • Inventions
  • Discoveries
  • Artistic works
  • Other similar things

Understanding the Different Types of Recognized Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is given very similar protective rights as physical property and therefore, stealing intellectual property is regulated at a federal level.

With intellectual property protection in place, the owner has the sole and exclusive rights to make and create, use and apply, and even distribute their work. It gives the owners then a temporary degree of monopoly over that idea and, with the single exception of the IP known as trade secrets, owners need to disclose the process involved and the original works to both the government and the general public.

Depending on what the work involves, intellectual property is classified as being one of the four main types of IP, briefly highlighted further up the page. The four main types of intellectual property are:

  • Patents
  • Trademarks
  • Copyrights
  • Trade Secrets

Patents

Patents are a form of intellectual property that provides protection for novel processes, original designs, and inventions. A patent can only be successfully granted to an invention though if it is useful, non-obvious and completely fresh and new.

With patents, the owner has exclusive rights to stop competitors and other companies/inventors and business from creating, manufacturing, using and even selling the property the patent applies to, across the US. Furthermore, a patent also provides protection for the intellectual property in question regarding the importation of properties that are so similar that they would be considered an imitation. Most patents provide protection that lasts for a total of 20 years, with the main exception being that of design patents providing protection of just 14 years.

As part of qualifying for the kind of protection a patent offers the owner and their IP, they are obliged to give a full disclosure publicly of their work.

To understand whether a patent is an appropriate form of protection for your intellectual property, let’s look at the main types of patents issued by the Patent and Trademark Office in the US.

Most Common Types of Patents Issued

There are at the very least 6 different kinds of patents issued by the USPTO, but there are 3 that are considered the most common. They are:

  • Utility Patents
  • Design Patents
  • Plant Patents

Utility Patents

Utility patents account for around 90% of the patents issued by the USPTO. These patents protect the functional or utility aspects and parts of an invention. Although that seems like a broad definition, it can cover anything manufactured for a specific and useful purpose or function, such as:

  • Compositions
  • Methods
  • Processes
  • Machines
  • Etc.

To make it even clearer, what’s described as useful by the USPTO refers to anything with an easily identifiable use capability and benefit. Utility patents are also, likewise, issued for improvements and updates made to inventions that fit the criteria outlined above.

Like other patents, reviewers look at the invention and its functions to assess whether it’s specific, not obvious and novel. However, for utility patents, the function of the invention does not need to be instantly recognizable.

Design Patents

Whereas utility patents provide protection for the function or utility of a specific product or invention, design patents provide protection for the visual appearance. They can be issued to protect any of the following:

  • General ornamentation
  • Shape
  • Design
  • Appearance

In order to be issued with a design patent, an invention or product needs to be non-functional, or it would require a utility patent. Similarly to utility patents, design patents are only issued to inventions and products with an appearance that is not obvious, specific and completely new.

To be clear, a design patent only covers the aesthetics of a product or invention, and therefore, if the aesthetics, as well as the function, require protection, both a design and utility patent would have to be applied for. A simple sketch and summary description of the appearance of the product is included with the application.

Plant Patents

Plant patents, of the three most common, are the rarest. Take, for instance, 1948, when, 18 years after the introduction of plant patents, only 750 had been issued. Curiously, half of those were issued for different kinds of roses.

Plant patents are given to either the invention or discovery of plants that are reproduced asexually. Similar to other patents, they need to be not obvious, distinct and novel. Plant varieties that can have patents issued to protect them from being grown or sold by others, include:

  • Sports
  • Mutants
  • Hybrids (although, first-generation hybrids are not included)

This form of patent exists to provide protection for growers who, upon the discovery or inception of a new flower or plant variety, would lose business if competitors learned how to reproduce that plant on a larger scale.

Our Alabama IP Attorneys Are Patent Law Experts

At May and Stuckey, our team of IP attorneys are well-versed in patent law and help our clients by evaluating their inventions. We do this not only to assess whether they are suitable for patenting or not but also with respect to infringement, as well as assisting in the application of patent protection and developing strategies for licensing those patented inventions so the client can make a profit. We also will assist in the enforcement of their patent rights when it is necessary. Our clients can receive help with everything they need, including:

  • Management of their portfolio
  • Due diligence efforts
  • Development of non-competition agreements
  • Formulating licensing and development agreements
  • Along with all relevant areas of patent prosecution.

Trademarks

Trademarks are a form of IP that refers to a symbol, word or group of words that identifies and represents a brand or product. In order to successfully qualify for the protection of a trademark, there are important criteria it needs to meet. The criteria are as follows:

The assets you are looking to protect with a trademark must be distinctive enough. It must stand out and be easy to differentiate and distinguish your services and goods from those offered by competitors and other companies or organizations.

Trademarks give the rights of exclusivity to holders/owners. Here in Alabama, it is The USPTO or US Patent and Trademark Office, just as it is throughout the rest of the country. However, it comes down to the owner’s responsibility to determine when infringements have taken place and prosecute those infringements.

The good thing is, that if the holder has followed the proper procedure with due diligence and has filed the appropriate documents and maintenance fees, the protection offered by a trademark remains in place indefinitely.

Although there is intellectual property referred to as trademarks within the category, there are other kinds of IP that are considered trademarks as well.

These include:

  • Trademarks
  • Certification Marks
  • Collective Marks
  • Trade Dress
  • Trade Name
  • Service Marks
  • Merely Descriptive, Descriptive and Generic Trademarks
  • Fanciful, Arbitrary and Suggestive Trademarks

Trademarks

Trademarks are words, names, phrases, logos or symbols that are used as an identifier of services or products and differentiate these from other similar items and companies. Although common law can be used to acquire trademark rights, it’s better to have your trademark officially registered.

Certification Marks

Certification Marks are words or symbols used to indicate a service or product has met a specific qualification, standards or has been otherwise approved by a specific association or organization that certifies those services or products. They are often used as an indication of the manufacturing type or process involved in making the product, the country or area of origin and various other aspects.

Collective Marks

Collective Marks are trademarks that are used as indicators of membership with a specific union, association or organization. CPA, for instance, is the collective mark used to highlight Certified Public Accountants. This marking can be used by someone to indicate they are a member of the organization and are thus fully qualified to function professionally as an accountant.

Trade Dress

Trade Dress encompasses the overall aesthetics, appearance and design of the packaging used for a product. Although patent law is applicable to functional designs, for packaging to receive the protection offered by trade dress, it must be there to just look good and have no real functional value.

TRADE NAME

Trade Names are used as an identifier of a company, rather than just their service or product. When a business or corporate uses a Trade Name, they do so to show what kind of business they are. It gets complicated because a company may have a trade name they operate under, but also manufacture a plethora of different products under different trademarks. A prime example of this is Proctor & Gamble who are a larger company that own a variety of different trademarks, including oral health and dental accessories manufacturer Oral-B.

MERELY DESCRIPTIVE, DESCRIPTIVE, AND GENERIC TRADEMARKS

These are specific kinds of trademarks that are generally thought of as unprotectable or weak.

FANCIFUL, ARBITRARY, AND SUGGESTIVE TRADEMARKS

On the other hand, these are being the most robust and effective trademarks and will normally be issued the greatest amount of protection.

SERVICE MARKS

So, trademarks are used as identifiers of the source of goods, service marks are used to identify where services come from. Service marks can be used by businesses in any field, whether they are a law firm or a pet grooming service to identify themselves by. While they are considered a different beast entirely, trademarks and service marks are protected to the same degree and their registrations are almost identical.

You can find out more about managing and renewing trademarks with a handy guide that the US Patent and Trademark Office has published.

LOOK TO FULMER, MAY AND STUCKEY AS YOUR IP LAWYERS FOR TRADEMARKS

At Fulmer, May and Stuckey, we have the experience needed to give you the assistance and guidance you need at every stage of the management of your brand, from the strategies related to developing your brand to the selection and clearance of appropriate marks. We can help you to obtain the necessary state and federal registrations for the trademarks. We can also help develop and implement the necessary strategies for licensing and enforce the rights of the brand.

We will always discuss the legal issues and cases involving trademarks and intellectual property candidly with our clients. This is especially important when our clients are presenting their business interests to service and trademarks in the US and overseas.

When necessary, our lawyers can handle all the proceedings with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) and work with due diligence with regards to transactions, handling issues with domain names and trademark litigations disputes whether it’s false advertising, unfair competition or infringement.

It is also our responsibility to offer clients advice regarding clearance searches to highlight any potential risks that could come from using a mark along with the kind of impact common law rights would have when it’s used. The team here at our Birmingham, Alabama practice can provide assistance with the process of securing the necessary state or federal level registration for trademarks or service marks, from securing them to maintaining them.

It doesn’t stop there, as we will continue to aide you by monitoring the way your marks are currently being used and how they could be used in the future, as well as identifying new enforcement and licensing opportunities.

COPYRIGHTS

Copyrights are interesting as they provide protection for expressions of ideas. These expressions can take various forms such as, but restricted solely to these:

  • Sculptural art
  • Graphic art
  • Pictorial art
  • Sound recordings
  • Motion pictures
  • Dramatic works
  • Musical works
  • Literary works
  • Computer programs and software

Copyrights grant the holder rights of exclusivity to make copies, modifications, distributions, performances, and displays of the work considered to be this form of IP. Generally, the length of time a copyright lasts for is the lifetime of the creator and an additional 70 years. However, there are various exceptions to this rule that change the duration copyright remains in place.

HOW FULMER, MAY AND STUCKEY CAN HELP WITH COPYRIGHTS

We provide assistance and guidance to our clients during the registration process when securing copyrights, along with the subsequent licensing and sales of the work. Our specially qualified copyright lawyers offer advice to clients regarding the subject of protectability, concerns about infringements, commercialization of their work, using other materials in a proper way and fair use in general. Our Alabama IP attorneys can also provide their expertise for creating suitable internet policies that are Digital Millennium Copyright Act compliant.

TRADE SECRETS

One of the most interesting types of IP is undoubtedly trade secrets. These are vital pieces of information of any kind that, while they remain undisclosed, provide a company, organization, manufacturer or other business a creative and competitive edge over their rivals or monetary value. By the very definition of trade secrets, actions of a reasonable nature must be actioned to ensure they remain a secret. If appropriate measures are not in place to keep it a secret, it can no longer be considered as such.

Compared to the other types of IP we’ve discussed that are assigned and protected by the US government, trade secrets are the only ones where the holder or owner has the right to keep them protected and private. It should be noted though, that rather than granting trade secrets, the US regulates any infringements if claims of misappropriation have been filed. Trade secrets essentially can remain secret for time indefinite, at least until they have been disclosed to the general public.

There are a number of different ways that trade secrets are protected. By far the most common of these methods is with the use of a non-disclosure agreement, known by the common shorthand abbreviation of NDA.

LOOK TO FULMER, MAY AND STUCKEY FOR ALABAMA TRADE SECRETS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAW ASSISTANCE

The primary way we assist and work alongside our clients respecting their intellectual property in the form of trade secrets is by identifying those secrets and developing plans to fully protect them. Our comprehensive services in this fascinating and complex area of law includes:

  • Developing a complete protection plan for the trade secrets
  • Preparing confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure agreements
  • Necessary manuals
  • Individualized policies

We work closely with clients to learn and appreciate how their trade secrets are identified and to develop the necessary steps every day to ensure they are protected, and our client’s rights are fully maintained regarding the secrets.

You Need Experienced and Qualified Intellectual Property Attorneys

As we are sure you can tell, intellectual property and the laws surrounding its various forms are complicated and even with some knowledge, can be hazardous to try managing. That is, without the experience and knowledge of a team of professional Birmingham, Alabama lawyers who know all about IP law. That’s what you get with May and Stuckey.

What About Intellectual Property Litigation?

The team of Birmingham IP lawyers at Fulmer, May and Stuckey can represent our clients as well as defend them when it comes to both state and federal courts and when facing the Patent Office Board of Appeals and the TTAB. The team we have can handle intellectual property litigation involving the following:

  • Patent claims
  • Trade secret claims
  • Unfair competition claims
  • Copyright claims
  • Trademark infringement claims

Our firm also has extensive experience when it comes to dealing with:

  • Claims regarding contracts for software development
  • Domain name rights
  • Cybersquatting
  • Violations of antitrust
  • Counterfeiting
  • False advertising
  • Non-compete
  • Unfair competition

Get in Contact With an Alabama IP Law Firm You Can Trust!

It is never a good idea to handle any of the above on your own, so if your company needs help either at the initial stages of protecting your intellectual property or are looking for help with federal, state, TTAB or Patent Office Board of Appeals cases or anything else listed above, please get in contact with the team at Fulmer, May and Stuckey.

We are experts in the field of IP law and understand this often tricky and perplexing, especially to those unfamiliar with the legalities area of law. Our team has represented individuals, companies, businesses and organizations just like you in the past.

What makes us different from the rest? We are truly a Birmingham, Alabama Intellectual Property law firm based in Alabama for the people of Alabama.

So, whether you are looking to register a trademark, service mark or copyright, looking to apply for a patent on that great invention or want to secure your memorable trade name so that your rivals don’t steal it away, speak to us.

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