Almost everyone diligently strives to protect their tangible property -- be that a home, a cherished automobile, a wedding ring or an almost limitless number of other objects. Whether the value of such property is sentimental, financial or both, the property is important to us.
A desire to maintain ownership of even intangible works we create seems inherent when we are in school. We desire credit for what we have accomplished academically, usually receiving that recognition in the form of praise or good grades. In a professional sense, inventors, novelists, playwrights, composers, musicians, actors and computer programmers, to name just a few, want to safeguard the ownership of their tangible and intangible property and to receive the rewards produced by the commercial use of such property.
Our legal system, and the legal systems of virtually all nations, have throughout their existence recognized and enforced ownership rights in private property.
The branch of law that provides protection for an individual's original works is termed intellectual property law and includes patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, trade dress and unfair competition.
By excluding others from wrongfully using the original works of an individual, intellectual property law enables the creator of a work to reserve the fruits of their creativity, whether sentimental or financial.
Patents on highly technical products can be enormously valuable. News articles have discussed the likelihood of decreased profits for Pfizer Inc. because the patent on the cholesterol-fighting drug Lipitor has expired, permitting the manufacture and sale of generic versions of that drug.
And news stories concerning patent infringement lawsuits between manufacturers of smartphones have become common.
Earning a doctorate in science or engineering can be of enormous help in conceiving and creating inventions involving high technology. I have, for example, obtained a patent in biotechnology for the dean over the College of Sciences at the University of Texas in San Antonio and a patent related to nanoparticles for a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Desirable, patentable inventions, however, are produced by individuals with a wide variety of talents. My efforts have resulted in patents within the U.S., Europe and Japan for a noted athlete -- former Utah Jazz Hall of Fame player John Stockton.
And the Rocket at Lagoon, as well as rides in Disneyland and throughout the world, are the subjects of patents that I helped acquire for Stan Checketts, an enormously creative man who successfully operated a cabinet business before he entered the amusement field.
A major key in deciding whether your creation economically justifies the financial investment required to seek legal protection is determining whether there is a commercial market for your creation or whether your creation is one of those rare developments -- such as the personal computer -- that will create its own market.
Even a child's toy, given the ability to mass produce and mass market the toy, has the potential for great value. A friend from law school, John Quinn, represents Mattel Inc. in a lengthy battle with MGA Entertainment Inc. over ownership rights to the Bratz line of dolls. Although it is currently under appeal, a federal court in Santa Ana, Calif., has entered a judgment in that case for $309.9 million.
My knowledge of this subject arises from being a graduate of Harvard Law School and possessing a bachelor's degree as well as a master's degree in physics from the University of Utah. I was ranked highest in the graduating class when I received my bachelor's degree and received my master's degree with distinction.
I have obtained patents throughout the world and have litigated in many state and federal courts, practicing predominantly in California and Utah.
I will be writing a series of articles describing, among other things, the various forms of intellectual property law, developments in that legal field, related principles of business law, tools you can utilize to protect your creations and how to find competent professional assistance. I hope this information will aid you in protecting your creative ideas.
Tom Fehr is a Ogden attorney with an international practice concentrating on intellectual property and patents. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.