We often think of property as being something you can hold in your hand, or walk on or into. But Texas and federal law protect intangible property as well, namely the intellectual property created by artists, inventors, and tradespersons. This intellectual property may often be the most valuable asset that a business owns.
Trademarks and service marks are protected by both state and federal law. A trademark or service mark is a concise and unique way of identifying the specific source of goods or services. Generally speaking, a business that has developed a favorable reputation with the public is entitled to the exclusive benefit of that goodwill. Another business trying to cause consumer confusion and grab a sales boost by purloining the identity and reputation of another business can be held liable.
Copyright law, on the other hand, provides that a person has the exclusive right to benefit from work that he or she has created. These works are often artistic in nature. Songwriters hold copyrights on their songs. Artists hold copyrights on their paintings, sculptures, and other works of art. Writers hold copyrights on their articles and books. The works can also have commercial value, for instance architect plans. These are only examples of the subject matter protected by copyrights. Copyright law, however, goes much further and is quite nuanced. Employers – whether that be television show producers, video game producers, or publishers – can obtain copyright rights from the artists that they employee under the Work for Hire Doctrine. The public, in certain circumstances, can freely use parts of an artist’s creation under the Fair Use Doctrine. There are numerous other doctrines, exceptions, and limitations involved in copyright law
Trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights can also be sold, or otherwise transferred to others. Even more common are licensing agreements, in which an owner of intellectual property grants a right to use, but not outright ownership. The use of a popular song in a television commercial, or the use of an artist’s image on a T-shirt are examples of products of such licensing agreements.
Trademarks, servicemarks, and copyrights can also be infringed. State and federal law provides that owners of intellectual property rights can file lawsuits against infringers, and recover actual or sometimes even statutorily-defined damages, as well as attorney's fees.
Attorney Carter Thompson has extensive experience in intellectual property matters, and has helped advise numerous businesses on how to protect their intellectual property