General Information On Intellectual Property

General Information

In general terms, intellectual property is any product of the human mind that the law protects from unauthorized use by others.  The ownership of intellectual property inherently creates a limited monopoly in the protected property.  Intellectual property is traditionally comprised of four categories: patents for inventions, copyrights for literary and artistic works and symbols, trade secrets for economically valuable business secrets and trademarks for symbols, names, images and designs used in commerce. Each of these categories has specialized laws that encourage creativity and fair competition by providing owners of intellectual property with rights and protections in return for their innovations.



Protecting your intellectual property is incredibly important. In our technology-driven society, for some organization's intellectual property can even be more valuable than physical property.

Patents

Patents are granted for inventing new and useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture or compositions of matter. The inventor is granted limited monopoly rights in return for public disclosure of the invention.  Getting a patent requires a long and complicated process.  However, the patent owner gains the right to stop others from making, using, selling or distributing the patented invention without the owner's permission.  This bundle of rights is called a "limited monopoly."  In exchange, the patent has to fully describe the invention and the owner's rights end about twenty years after filing the application.

There are three different types of patents.  By far most common is the "utility" patent, which covers functional inventions.  The rarest type is the plant patent, which covers certain types of newly created plants.  Design patents protect non-functional, ornamental or decorative aspects of an object.

You can read more about patents here.

Trademarks

Trademarks are words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that allow customers to easily identify and authenticate the source of a service or product. They are also the face of the company and have the potential to be renewed indefinitely. You can read more about trademarks here.

Copyrights

Copyrights protect authors who create original writings, music, and works of art, regardless of whether the works are published. Copyrights protect only physical works and do not protect the ideas behind the works.

While a copyright notice is not required, it informs the public that the work is protected. You can read more about copyrights here.

Trade Secrets

Trade secrets include any information a company keeps secret to give it an advantage over its competitors.  The information must have economic value and must be kept secret using a reasonable level of security.

 A famous example of that is the formula for Coca-Cola® soda. Trade Secret law is controlled at the state, not federal level.

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