Copyright and community property are both branches of property law. Although copyrights are created by federal law they are subject to some state law control as well. Copyright enforcement relies on state rules that are generally applicable to property. Under community property laws, a husband and wife become the co-owners of such property as may be owned or acquired by either spouse if and to the extent that such property falls within the definition of community property. A copyright work authored by a spouse during the marriage is community property.
Copyright protection in the United States is automatic upon the fixation of an original work of authorship. The use of the copyright notice and the registration of a work are referred to as formalities, which are the procedural requirements for securing and maintaining full copyright protection, and were formerly requirements for copyright protection. Some of the most sweeping changes under the 1976 Copyright Act involve copyright formalities.
Patent rights are created by federal law and give an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing a patented invention without the inventor’s permission for a limited period of time. The making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing of a patented invention without the inventor’s permission is said to directly infringe the patent, for which the patent owner may be able to recover a remedy. Patent law also provides for indirect infringement of a patent.
After a patent is issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the discovery of prior art or publications not noticed prior to the patent’s issue may raise questions as to the validity of the issued patent. In such a case, a patentee or a third party may file an application for reexamination of the patent in the USPTO. For a third party, reexamination provides a lower cost alternative to a conventional lawsuit for challenging the validity of a patent. If the third party is an unsuccessful infringement defendant, a reexamination that results in the invalidation of a patent may provide vindication of that defendant’s rights despite the results of the court case. For the patentee, the reexamination process may reveal the need to narrow a patent’s claims in order to be in a better position to fend off a challenge to the patent’s validity. In addition, the USPTO may take it upon itself to reexamine a patent without it being requested by the patentee or a third party.
Under the 1976 Copyright Act as amended, a work is protected by copyright from the time it is created in a fixed form. The copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created it. Generally, the person who created a work is the author of that work but there is an exception to that rule. Where a work is “made for hire,” the employer, not the employee, is considered the author.