Some types of intellectual property have limits on how long they can be covered by IP protection laws. The length of time these protections last depends on the type of IP, such as whether it’s copyrighted material, patented inventions, or trademarks. The steps you take to protect them may also come into play.
Here, we’ll look at how long IP protections last for most types of intellectual property.
Copyrighted materials, such as literature, songs, artwork, and other creative works, are limited in how long they can be covered by copyright laws. Those limits are significant, but the exact length of time depends on the author.
Typically, the duration of a copyright will be one of the following:
- The life of the author plus 70 years (if the author is known).
- The shorter of 95 years from first publication or 120 years from its creation (for works created for hire or under a pseudonym).
These both apply only to works created during or after 1978. Prior to 1978, works would only be protected for up to two terms of 14 years each.
The length of a patent depends on the type. Patents come in three categories:
- Utility patents, which cover machines, processes, compositions of matter, and so on.
- Design patents, intended for ornamental designs.
- Plant patents, intended for plants (the growing kind).
With a few exceptions, the protection period for patents are:
- 20 years from the application date for utility and plant patents, and;
- 14 years after being issued for design patents.
It’s worth noting that the protection date is based on when the patent is filed or issued, not on when the item was actually invented. Even so, it’s best not to delay applying for a patent.
Trademarks cover company names, logos, slogans, symbols, and anything else used to represent an entity in the marketplace. In general, trademark protection lasts as long as the protected material is used in commerce and safeguarded against infringement.
However, trademarks may be registered for periods of 10 years. After the first period, that registration may be renewed for another 10 years, with unlimited renewals available afterward.
Trade secrets are any information, device, technique, or process a company uses—and keeps secret—in order to maintain a competitive edge in the market. There are no registration processes necessary for trade secrets. Instead, they are protected as long as:
- They are commercially viable;
- The owner derives value from their being secret, and;
- The owner takes reasonable precautions to keep them secret.
As long as these conditions are met, the trade secret can be legally protected. However, if the owner lapses in any of these areas, they no longer have the legal right to prohibit others from using it.
Keeping IP Secure
While the laws above technically keep intellectual property secure from a legal standpoint, it’s still important to take practical steps to safeguard your IP. Enforcing IP laws can be difficult in some circumstances, and various factors can muddy the waters in this area. For help keeping your company’s intellectual property secure, contact us at Hart David Carson, LLP.