Intellectual property (“IP”) rights are rooted in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. IP litigation involves disputes relating to the protected creations of the human mind, including discoveries, inventions, artistic works, processes, and products. Since IP is protected by state and federal laws, these disputes are litigated in both court systems, as well as by arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution forums. And, given the global marketplace, IP rights are also an international concern.
IP is protected by specific laws relating to patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets; these laws acknowledge an innovator’s ownership of his or her novel creation and give that innovator the exclusive right, for a defined period of time, to use and benefit from it.
Litigation of IP matters takes several forms. One involves patents, which cover inventions on designs and products, as well as the processes through which they are manufactured or used. Patent infringement refers to the unauthorized use of a patented invention, at which point litigation can arise. A “Hatch-Waxman” litigation is a particular kind of patent dispute involving generic versus brand pharmaceutical products and processes and infringement of the patent(s) covering these.
Trademarks and copyrights also can be infringed. A trademark can be a symbol, logo, word, sound, color, or name that identifies the source of a product and distinguishes it from that of others. Copyrights protect works of authorship, such as writings, music, and art. Copyrights and trademarks grant holders exclusive rights to use their works, and an unauthorized use can lead to litigation. Trade secrets are information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over competitors. Misappropriation of trade secrets is a typical litigation scenario when such information is taken without authority.
Licensing disputes can arise that relate to any of these protections. A licensing agreement is essentially a contract between an IP rights owner and an entity authorized to use such rights, usually in exchange for an agreed upon fee or royalty. The extent to which parties do or do not follow the terms of that contract often engenders this type of litigation.
Other kinds of IP litigation can include variations of the above, including trademark dilution, “cybersquatting,” pirated and “knock-off” commercial goods, domain name disputes, domestic and foreign customs seizures, and unfair competition.
IP assets are a valuable foundation of any successful venture, so when unauthorized use occurs, disputes are bound to arise.