IP Rights "In a Can": Intellectual Property-Protected with Trademarks, Patents or Copyrights-Is Easily Explained with a Can of COCA-COLA

By Johnson, James H.; Denklau, Andrea P. | American Journalism Review, August-September 2003 | Go to article overview

IP Rights "In a Can": Intellectual Property-Protected with Trademarks, Patents or Copyrights-Is Easily Explained with a Can of COCA-COLA


Johnson, James H., Denklau, Andrea P., American Journalism Review


Intellectual property rights describe intangible ideas of the mind that receive legal protection, such as trademarks, patents and copyrights. Since the different forms of IP are sometimes difficult to understand, it helps to identify them in a familiar product. A can of COCA-COLA provides an effective "objet d'IP art."

TRADEMARKS

A trademark is any word, slogan, symbol, design, logo, sound, color or scent that serves to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one party from those of another. A trademark identifies the source and quality of goods and services, so it is a powerful tool enabling a consumer to select products that have delivered favorable experiences and reject those that have been less than satisfactory.

A can of COCA-COLA soft drink features many protected trademarks, such as the distinctive red color, the characteristic script and simply the word "Coca-Cola." Consumers view this word on a can as a sign that the beverage inside is of the same quality as other COCA-COLA soft drinks enjoyed in the past. If a third party sold KokaKola or Cocola beverages, it would constitute an infringement of the COCA-COLA trademark due to the phonetic and visible similarities of the respective marks. IP law protects consumers from the likelihood of confusion that might cause them to believe KokaKola or Cocola is somehow affiliated with or approved by the Coca-Cola Company.

In the United States, trademark rights are based on common law use, not registration. A party that uses a word or symbol to identify and distinguish its goods from others is entitled to protection under the various trademark laws, even if the mark is not registered with the state or federal government. If a trademark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, its status is designated by an [R] symbol. If a trademark is not registered, its status may be indicated by a [TM] symbol.

PATENTS

A patent is a right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling a particular invention. Unlike trademark common law rights, patent protection must be granted by the Patent and Trademark Office. To be patentable, the subject matter of a patent must be acceptable, new and not an obvious advancement over known technology. Patents are usually valid for 20 years from the filing date of the application.

A patent is basically an agreement or contract between an inventor and the federal government. In exchange for disclosure of new technology to the public in the patent document, the federal government grants the inventor the exclusive right to prohibit others from using the invention for a set period of time. …

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IP Rights "In a Can": Intellectual Property-Protected with Trademarks, Patents or Copyrights-Is Easily Explained with a Can of COCA-COLA
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