Most intellectual property does not need to be registered for it to be protected. While registration helps solidify rights, it is not necessary for establishing rights. For trademarks, merely using a brand in connection with goods or services establishes fully protectable rights for the proprietor. Rights exist in all territories where the owner offers its brand; earlier unregistered usage creates “common law” trademark rights which can even stop a later registered use that moves into the territory. Registration expands the territory to the entire United States and creates a better presumption of a valid trademark. Similarly, copyrights exist from the moment the work is created. Registration is needed to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement and provides the chance to receive enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees. Trade secrets are never registered and are protected by taking reasonable steps under the circumstances to maintain the confidentiality of the information. Only patents require registration to create a legal right. Inventors must file a patent application and proceed through the registration process before their invention is protected.
Ned T. Himmelrich
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