What are the protections provided to intellectual property under federal law?
Protection of intellectual property has been a priority for the federal government since its inception. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution states that the Congress shall have the power
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”
Thus was born the notion of protection of intellectual property for writers, artists, businessmen, inventors and others who, through their own efforts, endeavored to create without fear of their ideas or inventions being usurped by others for their financial gain. As the authors of the Constitution suggested, there are multiple of types of intellectual property – which is defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization as “creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.” [www.wipo.int/about-ip/en/]
Legal protections for intellectual property fall into a number of categories, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and mask works. Obviously, the types of intellectual efforts envisioned by the drafters of the Constitution were limited to the technological level of the time, so considerations for recorded music, film and television, computer software, and other recent innovations have had to be factored into discussions of intellectual property. In brief, patents are used to protect inventions and technical innovations; copyrights apply to written documents, including music, and art, and has been extended to provide protections for computer software, websites, and other forms of electronic communications; trademarks protect corporate logos and symbols, as well as business names, from infringement by competing businesses or businesses in unrelated industries but which wish to use the same name; trade secret protection refers to proprietary information that is developed within a company the release or theft of which could both deprive the company of revenue and benefit its competition; and mask works, which are defined as
“a series of images, however fixed or encoded (1) having or representing the predetermined three-dimensional pattern of metallic, insulating, or semiconductor material present or removed from the layers of a semiconductor chip product; and (2) in which series the relation of the images to one another is that each image has the pattern of the surface of one form of the semiconductor chip product.” [www.bu.edu/otd/for-inventors/invention/ipi/maskworks/]
These are the categories of legal protections the federal government provides for intellectual property. American companies are regularly forced to appeal to the federal government for help with trademark, patent, and copyright infringements that occur in foreign countries, especially in Asia and South America, where counterfeit compact discs, DVDs, watches, and many other items are routinely sold in large numbers, depriving the American copyright or patent holder of significant revenue. To the extent American laws are not applicable in cities like Bangkok, Shanghai, and Santiago, the U.S. Government attempts to resolve these intellectual property disputes through the World Trade Organization. Successful resolution of such disputes are slow in coming, if they ever occur at all.