Intellectual Property Rights
Intellectual Property Rights - an overview

Trademarks are marks that serve to differentiate the goods or services of one company from those of other companies. Since the new Trademark Act went into force on 1/1/1995, the so-called "common" trademarks such as word trademarks and picture trademarks have been joined by the possibility of also registering sound trademarks, color trademarks, three-dimensional trademarks, and odor trademarks. In addition, trademarks are now also freely transferable. This has made them into a desirable asset, whose significance cannot be estimated highly enough. Title to a trademark is created either by registration with the German Patent and Trademark Office - whereby the Office merely examines whether a trademark is suitable for protection at all, no conflict examination occurs - and/or by usage and general acceptance in trade.

Design Patent
The most important property right for all designers and design-oriented companies is the design patent. It protects the outward form, the esthetically effective design of patterns and models. In this case, it is irrelevant whether the design is two-dimensional (a pattern) or three-dimensional (a model). A German design patent is applied for from the German Patent and Trademark Office, for the EU from the Harmonization Office in Allicante. It is registered after examination of only the formal prerequisites. No examination of the material requirements, specifically novelty and uniqueness, is carried out. Therefore, it is advisable to carry out research independently prior to application to determine whether the product to be registered already exists in an identical or similar form. In addition to the registered design, protection for non-registered designs also exists. This, however, only for up to three years after publication.

Patents protect technical inventions and processes. An invention is thus something intellectual, a technical idea, which the inventor has presented in an object or using a process. An invention should be reported to the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA) for granting of a patent. The DPMA initially only examines whether there are any formal defects, and whether the invention apparently fulfills the prerequisites for issuance of a patent. A comprehensive examination upon which the granting of the patent depends is only undertaken upon specific application. After the decree granting the patent has become final and enforceable, the patent is immediately entered into the Register of Patents.

Utility Patents
Utility patents are frequently called the "little patent". It protects technical inventions. It is registered with the German Patent and Trademark Office, with only the formal prerequisites being examined. Otherwise, no examination of the prerequisites for protection occurs. Therefore, the question of whether an invention is actually worthy of protection can only be determined in case of a violation. However, it is possible to have the utility patent examined by the German Patent and Trademark Office upon special application.

Works of literature, science, and/or art enjoy copyright protection. However, this does not only include the paintings, sculptures, musical and/or theater pieces generally understood by all to be subject to copyright, but also, for instance, an advertising graphic or a particularly unique piece of furniture, as well as computer programs. Other consumer or industrial products can also be capable of being copyrighted - insofar as they are based on a high degree of artistic creativity. Copyright is established by virtue of creation, that is, as soon as the original idea is embodied in a corresponding work.

Competition Law
Differently than intellectual property rights (patents, design patents, trademarks, utility model patents, and copyrights), for instance, competition law does not protect any individual interests, but rather the fairness of competition. Any number of competitive acts can give rise to conflicts. Anyone active in business can be affected. Competition law disputes can be based on deception in price specifications, exaggerated luring of customers, comparative advertising, product imitation, exploitation of another´s reputation, etc.

Source: Busse & Partner Law firm, Munich