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How long do your intellectual property rights remain in effect?

There are several intellectual property tools that entrepreneurs can utilize to protect their creative or business assets. Protections granted by intellectual property remains in effect for various amounts of time after being awarded them.

Patents, which are used to protect the use of a product in a new way and its composition or manufacturing process, remain in effect for at least 20 years from the time an inventor applies for protection. Patent holders must pay filing maintenance fees at the 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5-year marks after the patent has been initially granted. Successfully paying filing fees preserves an entrepreneur's rights to their intellectual property throughout the two decades.

Copyrights are assigned to authored works that are preserved in a fixed form. Individuals aren't required to copyright their work to enjoy protections from being copied or sampled. However, authors must have copyrighted their work if they plan to sue someone for violating their rights. This type of intellectual property right generally remains in effect for the remainder of the time that the copyright holder is alive plus an additional 70 years post-mortem. Anonymous works are protected for between 95 and 120 years after they're created.

Trademarks, which generally refer to the registration of a symbol, word, design or phrase that distinguishes a brand from others, remain in effect forever provided that they are still being readily used. However, rights protected by a trademark may only be enforceable here in the U.S. and not abroad. Individuals or entities who maintain intellectual property rights over a trademark may be required to file maintenance documents every so often if they wish to remain in control over their trademarked logo, slogan or any other protected artistic work.

Unfortunately, these intellectual property right timelines often don't deter others from trying to steal your ideas. However, these time frames do allow you to establish your rights to certain information and hold anyone who violates your rights accountable for their actions.

An intellectual property litigation attorney can advise you whether you are covered by the built-in protections associated with copyrights, patents or trademarks. An experienced intellectual property lawyer can also advise you whether to file suit if someone infringes on your rights.

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