Legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi famously
began the first practice of each season, by stating the obvious, “Gentlemen, THIS
is a football.” Lombardi realized that success, on or off the field requires a
thorough understanding of the basics. This blog post is another in a series
dedicated to helping inventors make informed decisions by better understanding Intellectual
Property in all its many forms. With that, it seems appropriate to begin this
series with the topic we are asked about often…
Inventors, ”THIS” is a copyright!
A copyright is the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.
Copyright is a widely misunderstood form of intellectual property and especially misunderstood by inventors. They never protect an invention itself. They do not protect ideas or concepts – only protects one specific expression of the idea or concept.
Copyrights have a high degree of validity and usefulness in certain situations, but probably not in most situations involving inventors.
Copyrights protect literary or artistic works, but only to the extent that they protect the one specific expression of that literary or artistic concept, whether that expression is in the format of sheet music, MP3 files, digital photograph e.g. JPG or PNG file, film in a MP4 file or other submissions. They can be on the sheet music, MP3 files, digital photograph e.g. JPG file, or MP4 file itself, not on the subject matter held within the MP3, JPG, or MP4 file.
Another aspect of copyright law is Fair Use. Fair Use is a doctrine that brief excerpts of copyright material may, under certain circumstances, be quoted verbatim for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, without the need for permission from the copyright holder. However, Fair Use depends on a lot of factors, summarized in the below 4 categories: the purpose and character of the use; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the excerpted portion of the copyrighted work, and the effect of the use upon the potential market.
Generally speaking, copyright law is rarely useful in protecting an invention.
For most inventions, a patent is a much better form of intellectual property. It would take a long time to explain all the reasons why, but an easy summary is that patent protection is much broader than copyright protection. Patents, unlike copyright, can (to some extent) protect an underlying idea.