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IP Chalk Talk

IP Protections and Definitions

By Andy Bluvas

As Clemson's affiliated technology transfer organization, CURF manages and commercializes intellectual property generated at the University. Intellectual property (IP) rights are intangible rights associated with inventions, creative works, slogans, logos, and proprietary information. CURF uses patent, copyright, and trademark protection to protect and leverage various forms of intellectual property to further the mission of Clemson University.

Patents

Patent rights are associated with novel inventions and allow the owners to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented technology for up to 20 years. In exchange for this limited monopoly, the inventor must fully disclose the invention to the public through the patent application process. A wide variety of approaches, methods, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter can be patented as well as ornamental designs and certain classes of plants.

Patent inventors are those who have made an independent intellectual contribution to an invention and have contributed to at least one of the patent claims. Inventors may sell or assign their rights in the patent to other individuals or entities, which typically would reduce the inventors' ability to use an invention without the permission of the new assignee.

Patent offices in individual countries grant patents to inventions that are useful, novel, and non-obvious. The patent novelty standard requires that an inventor must not publicly disclose an invention before filing a patent application. An invention is considered obvious and would not be patentable if a person having ordinary skill in the area of the invention could recreate the invention without undue experimentation. A patent is granted independently based on the country where it is filed. Each national patent office evaluates the patent application and determines whether the invention will be allowed a patent in that country. International treaties have combined and standardized the patent process in many jurisdictions and provide the framework for inventors to pursue patents across the globe.

Copyrights

Copyrights are associated with works of authorship. Unlike patents, which protect an invention's functional aspects, copyrights protect an author's creative expression. When an author takes a creative idea and fixes that idea in a tangible medium, that author automatically gains copyrights to the invention and restricts others from unauthorized copying and distribution of the work. Examples of fixation in a tangible medium include writing the work down, drawing a sketch, taking a photo, and writing software code.  

Copyright ownership is given to the author or group of authors who created the work. Authors are those individuals who contributed to the creation of the work. Works made for hire typically require a written agreement that can transfer ownership to an employer or customer once the work is created. In cases where an author transfers their copyrights to specific visual arts, they will retain moral rights in the work, which include a right of attribution and the right to preserve the integrity of the work.  

Copyright protection lasts significantly longer than patent protection. The copyright term lasts for the life of the author plus 75 years. Copyrights associated with anonymous works and works made for hire last between 95 and 120 years, depending on the circumstances of their creation. Formally registering a work with the US Copyright office can enhance copyright protection.

Trademarks

Trademarks protect words, phrases, and symbols associated with specific goods and services sources. Like copyrights, trademark protection automatically arises when using a mark to sell commercial goods or services. Trademarks must be distinct and cannot be substantially like an existing mark. Trademark rights only protect specific classes of goods that display and utilize the marks. Formal trademark registration only provides protection for the specific country where the mark is formally registered.

Brand logos and slogans are common examples of trademarks. A significant factor in deciding whether to award a new trademark is the likelihood that a consumer will confuse the proposed trademark with another. Although strong marks are often a sign of positive consumer sentiment and business success, trademarks that become too popular risk losing their distinctiveness and becoming "genericized."    

Clemson's position as an R1 Research University promotes the creation of a significant amount of intellectual property throughout its various campuses. CURF is committed to working with faculty, researchers, and students to identify, evaluate, provide guidance, and protect all the various forms of intellectual property generated at Clemson University.

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