When you think of copyrights, you should think of the protection of creativity. Copyright law is a complex area of law, with many gray areas, but if you want to learn more about it, there is a way that you can do it for free. The Copyright Office website has produced numerous fliers about copyright issues that can help you better understand the area and help you in your research. The Copyright Office circulars are written in layman’s terms and are a great place for you to get started. If you need more in depth treatment of the topic, the main copyright treatise that is relied upon by both judges and practitioners is Nimmer on Copyright, available on Lexis. Another recommended copyright treatise is Patry on Copyright, which is available on Westlaw.
Both trademarks and trade secrets pertain to business. Trademarks and service marks indicate the origin of the goods or services marketed to consumers. When you hear of “branding,” people are discussing trademarks and market presence. Trade secrets, in contrast, are something that makes a product or service better than the competitors - think the Coca-Cola formula or the blend of seasonings used by Kentucky Fried Chicken. A trade secret is more than just the tricks of the trade. It’s something unique that makes a good or service special and able to stand out from the rest.
Like the other areas of intellectual property law, trademarks and trade secrets both have helpful and authoritative treatises. McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition (available on Westlaw) and Milgram on Trade Secrets (available via Lexis) provide practitioners and law students alike with easy to understand and ample guidance in these complex areas. McCarthy’s in particular is of note. J. Thomas McCarthy is a law professor at the University Of San Francisco School Of Law and is considered to be the top expert on trademarks in the United States.