Advertising: What is a Copyright, Patent and Trademark?

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When a person develops an original idea or creation, he or she will want to be identified as its creator. This is important because it offers protection against others who may claim to have thought of, written or made the item. Identifying oneself as the original creator or founder will ensure that the proper credit, recognition, and compensation are received. Ideally, this should be done before the finished product is advertised or made available to the public. In order to do this, a person will want to look into copyrights, patents, and trademarks for their invention or creation. It is important to understand what type of protection is necessary and why.

What is Advertising?

When a company or person makes goods or provides a service, they must find customers who will want to buy them. To reach large numbers of potential customers they need to sell what they have produced. This makes advertising necessary for success. Advertisements are a form of marketing that promotes the product or service in a manner that reaches a large number of people. For example, an advertisement in the form of a store sign can be seen by anyone who passes by, which could mean hundreds or thousands of people per day. If even a fraction of those people visit the store and purchase something, this marketing technique will pay for itself. A television commercial is another example of advertising. It can be one of the most expensive forms of advertising, but it can reach tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions of people. If a fraction of those viewers purchase the company's product or service, it is considered to be a successful campaign. Less expensive types of advertisements include commercials on broadcast radio, billboard signs, and web page banner ads on the Internet.

Further Information and Lesson Plans
  • An Overview of Advertising - A Washington State University article about what advertising is about. This page also includes a section on defining the meaning of advertising.
  • Advertising Guidance - The Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection guide for advertisers. Contains a wealth of advice on how to advertise properly and avoid potential legal problems.
  • Small Business Administration: Truth in Advertising- A Federal government information portal outlining the laws regarding advertising. Covers a variety of topics including deceptive practices and pricing rules.
  • Federal Trade Commission: Fax Advertising - The FTC's guidelines page about the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Includes information about opt-out requirements, how to file a complaint against unlawful fax advertising, and exemptions.
  • Nolo - Avoid Unlawful Advertising: Seven Rules for Your Business - A do-it-yourself legal website resource about advertising laws. It explains the rules of advertising, as well as the Federal and state governments' role in enforcing the rules.
  • Doctors Call for Ban on Tobacco Ads The American Academy of Pediatrics joined forces and released a statement requesting that the government bans all activity by advertises that targets children and you with tobacco, alcohol, and other advertisements for drugs.
  • Do's and Don'ts of Email Marketing(PDF) - A University of Pennsylvania guide for sending advertisements via email. This page discusses when to send emails, how to personalize emails, and what not to do when sending commercial emails.
  • Who Owns You? Finding a Balance between Online Privacy and Targeted Advertising- A University of Pennsylvania web page about targeted advertising. This article addresses the relationship between targeted marketing and privacy issues.

What are Copyrights?

Copyrights are a form of legal construct that falls under the realm of intellectual property law. It is a concept that grants a set of exclusive rights to the author of an original work. These exclusive rights mean that the author has the power to, among other things, make and sell copies of their work. In addition, it also restricts who else may do so. Works that can be copyrighted include, but aren't limited to, software, movies, songs, literature, and pictures. Copyrights last for the author's lifetime, plus up to a hundred years beyond his or her death. Copyright holders face threats primarily from those who copy their works without permission, some of whom attempt to sell their copies for profits. When this happens, the copyright holder can pursue legal remedies in civil court, although in some cases they can also pursue criminal prosecution.

What are Patents?

When a person creates an invention that is useful, unique and novel in nature, they may receive a patent for it. A patent gives the inventor the right to monopolize the production of their product for a set amount of time. In the United States, that period of time can be as long as 20 years. In exchange for exclusive control over the production of an invention, the patent holder must publish the full details of the invention for others to inspect. The word patent means "to lay open" in Latin. This makes patents almost the exact opposite of trade secrets, which are inventions that are kept secret from the public. Patents come in many types, such as biological patents, chemical patents, design patents, software patents, and utility patents. It is possible for inventors to patent new drugs, mechanical devices, as well as certain types of computer programs, among many other things. Inventors seeking a patent face the threat of their work being illegally copied by others, which is called patent infringement. In most cases patent infringement is a matter to be decided in civil courts via a lawsuit. Patents can be declared invalid by a civil court for a number of reasons, most notably prior art. Prior art means that the invention is judged to not be unique, due to the fact that the invention previously existed and was in fact public knowledge.

  • The United States Patent and Trademark Office - The United States government website that covers issues related to patents and trademarks. Also includes information about intellectual property laws.
  • University of Houston: Patent History- A guide to the history of patents, presented by the University of Houston. Covers the origin of patents, dating back to the 1400's.
  • UC Berkeley: Patents(PDF) - An article that explains the nature of patents. Includes the definition of a patent, the history of patents, and their economic impact.
  • A Brief History of the Patent Law of the United States- An article dedicated to the history of patents. It covers the origins of patent laws in the Middle Ages and its history in the United States.
  • The History of Software Patents(PDF) - A Duke University web page covering the history of software patents. The article includes information on the Supreme Court decision that made software patents possible.
  • Index to Manual of Classification of Patents- A patent classification resource with over 400 entries. This web page lists many different types of patents, all in alphabetical format.
  • US Patent Information - Types of Patents- A Catholic University of America web page that explains different types of patents. It briefly covers design patents, plant patents and utility patents.
  • Boston University: Patents- A web page that explains the rights of patent holders. Covers what things can be patented, as well as types of patents and an overview of the patent process.

What are Trademarks?

In the world of advertising, individuals, companies or other organizations may use symbols, slogans, sounds, or other unique indicators in order to establish an identity for their products or services. These methods of establishing brand name recognition are called trademarks. The three levels of trademarking are registered trademarks, service marks, and unregistered trademarks. Service marks are trademarked services as opposed to trademarked products, while unregistered trademarks are protected under a limited number of cases. Fully registered trademarks are those that are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In addition to levels, there are also types of trademarks, which are registered trademarks, service marks, collective marks, and certification marks. Collective marks are trademarks that pertain to the services or products of a group of legal entities, usually some kind of association. Certification marks represent goods and services that have been judged to meet a certifying association's set of standards, and may not be restricted to entities that are members of the association. Legal entities typically pursue trademarks in civil court to protect their brand from being imitated or misrepresented by competitors.

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