For people developing an estate plan, it’s important not to forget any intellectual property concerns you might have. Understanding estate planning is about taking a step back, looking at the issues involved, and approaching them piece-by-piece. A good estate plan gives you a roadmap of where you can go in light of your goals and your circumstances.
If you have any type of intellectual property, you need to develop a plan that will fit your specific assets. An experienced and qualified estate planning lawyer can advise on how to approach each type of intellectual property there is, but for now, let’s take a look at the most commonly encountered forms of intellectual property.
Copyright laws grant the owner of any original work the exclusive right to use, sell, reproduce, or otherwise use that property for his or her entire lifetime, plus an additional 70 years after. When you create an original poem, photograph, book, or any other work of authorship, copyrights vest automatically. You cannot copyright ideas, so you must affix or attach your work into some kind of physical form, such as by writing it down on a piece of paper or otherwise recoding it. While you can register your works of authorship with the U.S. Copyright Office for additional protections, all authors retain copyright over their works automatically upon creation.
Unlike copyrights, a patent is something you can only acquire after filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Patents are for inventions. If you’ve created a new product or process, you can submit an application and ask the USPTO to review it. If your creation is original and your application is accepted, you gain patent rights in it for 20 years. After those 20 years your patent rights expire.
Trademarks are kind of a hybrid between patents and copyrights. Like patents, you have to submit a trademark application to the USPTO before you can acquire trademark rights in any property. However, trademarks to not apply to inventions, but encompass original works of authorship that name, identify, or otherwise differentiate a product, person, or company. You can trademark, for example, your small businesses logo, slogan, or any other identifying mark.
After submitting an application and having it approved, you own the exclusive rights to the trademark item for 10 years. After those 10 years expire, and as long as you can show the trademark is still in use, you can renew your application for another 10-year period.
The different procedures involved, as well as the different time length of intellectual property rights, are something you need to evaluate when making your estate plan. Consult with an experienced an qualified estate planning lawyer if you have any questions about how your IP plays a role in your estate.