Intellectual property covers patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Companies and inventors alike protect their intellectual property. It is equally important to understand if someone else’s intellectual property is protected before using that intellectual property without their permission.
So, how long does each of the four types of intellectual properties last?
Patents are issued as utility (or plant) patents and design patents. Utility patents last for a 20-year term. Design patents, on the other hand, last for 14 years from when the patent is granted. You may see the terms “patent pending” and “patent applied for” when someone is advertising a new product. Those products are not protected until an actual patent is granted. It is also important to note that advertising something as patented without actually having a patent is illegal.
Trademarks can remain in force as long as the owner meets the requirements for registering and maintaining the trademark. Trademarks are issued for ten-year periods, and as long as the owner meets the requirements, they can keep their trademark indefinitely as long as they renew every ten years.
Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years for any work created after 1978. Copyrights for work published prior to 1978 vary depending on several factors.
Trade secrets do not expire, but there is no legal way to register a trade secret. It is important to have contracts, documents, non-disclosure, and non-compete agreements that can be used by the owners of trade secrets to protect themselves.
The intentional or unintentional use of someone’s intellectual property is costly. Here are some interesting figures on how impactful intellectual property crime is to the U.S. economy each year:
- $180 Billion a year from theft of trade secrets
- $18 Billion a year from pirated U.S. software
- $29 Billion a year in displaced legitimate sales due to counterfeit and pirated goods
- *Statistics provided by the United States Department of State
Understanding your intellectual property rights and not infringing on the intellectual property rights of other companies is hard, but it doesn’t have to be!
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All the best,