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Some people have dreams of creating content on the internet, so that they can earn some of that sweet "internet money." These people make videos, GIFs, images, blog posts and many other forms of content to reach their dream. In these cases, they do so intentionally. If they are lucky, one of their pieces of content will "go viral" and sweep the globe at a rapid pace as friends share the content with friends, who share it with other friends -- and so on.

But not every "viral" meme or video is created intentionally. Sometimes everyday people just happen to capture an incredible moment on video or in a picture, and when they share it with a few people, it quickly spreads like a wildfire without them even intending for it to do so.

So the question here is: how are viral videos and viral internet memes affected by intellectual property law?

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Most people have heard of a trademark before, and even if they don't know what a trademark is, they can probably recognize the iconic "TM" symbol near a logo, word or phrase. A trademark is actually quite simple : it signifies that the mark (may that be a logo, word, phrase or something else) is of a certain source and shouldn't be confused with other sources that may make similar products.

Trademarks don't protect against other companies making or selling the same product as a company that has a trademark. Rather, the trademark prevents other companies from using similar or confusingly identical logos, phrases and imagery to the company with the trademark. The other companies have an obvious incentive for doing this: they want to reap the benefits of the trademarked company's reputation. The company with the trademark obviously wants to protect that.

Registering a trademark can be a little complicated, but it is important to note that you still have rights even if you don't register the mark. However, getting the trademark registered is a very crucial step to protecting your company's identity.

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Patents are vital to the world of intellectual property. Whether a company is trying to protect a mass-produced product, or a small, independent content creator is trying to protect their work, a patent is crucial to ensuring that the company or individual receives the credit they deserve for creating that work.

But ultimately, what is a patent? Formally, it is a legal protection that forbids other people from recreating, repurposing or using your work for their purposes without your consent. This is referred to as a "negative right." In other words, it grants you the right to exclude other people from doing something. Once a patent is granted, then no other person or company can make an independent claim that they created or invented the work protect under patent.

Before a patent is granted, though, there is an extensive patent application process, and the rights granted to the creator applying for a patent are important during this process. For example, before you apply for a patent, you have no legal protections whatsoever. That means that another company or creator could be independently creating a similar (or identical) piece of work to your own and they would not be violating any rules or laws.

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As social media continues to grow in popularity, the more it becomes ingrained into our daily lives. For many people, social media has replaced face-to-face interactions with people and for some, it even replaces watching the news.

But because of social media's immediate access to content, social media companies - and sometimes even their users - find themselves walking into a legal gray area, especially in regards to intellectual property rights. It's an issue that some of our California readers may be following, as it has cropped up in the news in recent months because of issues concerning NFL sports clips.

Though the NFL has been taking aggressive legal actions to prevent copyright infringement and protect its intellectual property rights over exclusive programming and sports clips, some believe users and social media companies may have the right to fair use. If this is the case, then the NFL would need to be more cautious about sending out cease and desist letters and takedown notices in the future.

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There's little debate about the fact that America's patent system has its share of problems. Especially in recent decades, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has "rubber stamped" too many patent applications, effectively issuing patents that would not hold up under careful scrutiny. Usually, these patents are for broad concepts or vague business processes.

Challenging or defending the validity of a patent in court can be time-consuming and expensive, which is why the USPTO began offering an alternative procedure called an inter partes review (IPR). But many allege that this system, which has been in place since 2012, invalidates far too many patents and that the patent office improperly interprets the patents that it is asked to review. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to weigh in on a challenge to the IPR procedure.

The case to be heard was originally filed by Cuozzo Speed Technologies LLC. In 2012, Cuozzo had its speedometer patent invalidated after rival company Garmin Ltd filed the first-ever IPR petition. Cuozzo alleges that of all the cases which have come under inter partes review, nearly 85 percent have ended with some or all or the challenged claims being canceled. The company calls the review procedure "surprisingly lethal."

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State Bar of California NYSBA Santa Clara County Bar Association US Department of Homeland Security US Court of Appeals US Patent and Trademark Office
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