Patent law is a highly specialized field that involves protection for the inventors of machines and other tangible products or processes. The U.S. Patent Office issues patents that give exclusive rights to these developers for the sale or distribution of their inventions.
Because the determination of a product’s uniqueness is often highly technical and detailed, the process of securing a patent is much more complex than for filing a copyright. This process is so complicated, in fact, that there is a special patent bar (whose members pass a patent bar exam), a special submission process, and even a special court system to govern disputes and appeals.
Most patent lawyers work in specialized patent law firms, in patent law system in the Patent Office of Court. Almost all of these lawyers possess an educational background or experience in a technical or scientific field.
This is because they are frequently required to utilize their skills as well as legal skills when carrying out their work.
Trademark law deals more with marketing than with product origination. It has long been recognized that name identification is an important element in selling a product. Do you want Coke or Pepsi? Do you drive a BMW or Ford? Do you wear Nike or Adidas?
Trademark issues take on even greater proportions when products are distributed on a worldwide basis through electronic media to consumers. Visual images, too, can be a part of a product’s identity. Think about the Exxon tiger or the golden arches.
Ay name or symbol that is exclusively identified with a particular product and used in the marketing of the product can be registered as a trademark and protected against infringement. A trademark owner who fails to assert the trademark may lose legal interest to the public domain.
A product may have become so ubiquitous that its name becomes synonymous with an entire class of products. Xerox Corportation regularly takes out full-page ads in major newspapers and magazines informing people that the copies they make are photocopies, not “Xeroxes.”
Coca-cola take pains to inform people that not all cola-flavored soft drinks are “Coke.” Other problems may include product confusion, such as a mom-and-pop store in New England named after owners, Bloomingdales, or knockoff purses and watches sold with designer labels like Kate Spade and Rolex.
A related area involves the commercial exploitation of any image, as when an entertainer has developed and exploited a unique style and does not want it copied by imitators. One of the earliest cases in this area involved the estate of Bela Lugosi, the actor who created the movie character of Dracula.
Such lawsuits are commonplace today as media personalities, from movie stars to musicians to athletes to people thrust into the public eye by events, take legal steps to protect their interest in their fame and notoriety.
Many firms that handle copyright cases also handle trademarks. Likewise, many companies that distribute products utilize trademark lawyers in-house. In addition, because of the close relationship between trademarks and marketing, marketing agencies may also be involved in trademark issues.
Since a trademark or logo may be designed by a marketing firm, there may even be issues as to who wants the trademark, the marketing agency or the product manufacturer or distributor.