public domain – government-owned land, or a composition, devise, or process so well known and in such common use, or explicitly dedicated, so as not to be patentable

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public domain:

1. Government-owned land.

2. Hist. Government lands that are open to entry and settlement.  * Today virtually all federal lands are off limits to traditional entry and settlement.

3. Intellectual property. The universe of inventions and creative works that are not protected by intellectual-property rights and are therefore available for anyone to use without charge.  *  When copyright, trademark, patent, or trade-secret rights are lost or expire,t he intellectual property they had protected becomes part of the public domain and can be appropriated by anyone without liability for infringement. [1]

1. The public lands of the United States or of a state. Barker v. Harvey, 181 US 481, 490, 45 L Ed 963, 968, 21 S Ct 690; People v Shearer, 30 Cal 645, 658.

Literary, musical, or dramatic compositions so dedicated to the public as not to be subject to copyright. 18 Am J2d Copyr § 42.

A devise or process so well known and in such common use as not to be patentable. 40 Am J1st Pat § 25. [2]

1. Land owned by the United States or by state.
     See Bureau of Land Management.

2. In copyright law, a literary composition or other work that has not been copyrighted or with respect to which the copyright has expired. [3]

     Excerpt from 1 J. Thomas McCarthy’s McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition §  1.01[2], at 1-3 (3d. ed. 1996):

     “[P]ublic domain is the status of an invention, creative work, commercial symbol, or any other creation that is not protected by any form of intellectual property.  Public domain is the rule: intellectual property is the exception. [4]


Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.


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