What is intellectual property?

Intellectual Property (often referred to as IP) refers to creations of the mind such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Intellectual property rights are protected in law with patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. These vehicles of protection enable people to earn recognition and/or financial benefits from the things they invent.

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

– Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution


Patents provide protection to inventors, and creators of items including, but not limited to, software, processes, electronic and mechanical devices, and pharmaceuticals. In order to be patentable, an invention must be useful, novel, and non obvious. Patent law aims to foster balance. Promoting technological innovations through proprietary rights, while providing legal space for access to those innovations.

A patent provides its owner with the right to decide whether, and under what circumstances, the invention can be used by others. This protection is made in exchange for the inventors public publishing of technical information about the invention in their patent document.


Copyrights protects authors’ creative expressions of their ideas (not the idea themselves) in whatever tangible form the expression might take. For example, a sculpture, painting, drawing, motion picture, sound recording, architectural works, writing, or music.Copyright is technically created once a work is fixed in a tangible form, and registration is not required to acquire a copyright. However, there are important advantages to registration and is generally necessary to commence litigation and enable potential recovery of certain damages.

An owner of a copyright enjoys several exclusive rights, including the right to make copies of the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies of the copyrighted work, and to perform and display the copyrighted work publicly.

The term of copyright for a work is the life of the author plus 70 years, or; if the copyright is owned by a corporate entity 120 years from creation of the work or 95 years from publication, whichever expires first.


Trademarks protect any “word, name, symbol, or device… that identifies and distinguishes a parties goods or services. Trademark rights can attach to a variety of marks including words, logos, pictures, slogans, colors, smells, symbols, or any combination, including and product packaging and designs. A mark can be used to identify the source of, and distinguish the good and services from one person or company with the goods and services of another.

Trademarks perform the following functions:

(1) Identify a company’s goods and services and distinguishes them from the goods and services of other companies.

(2) Signify all the goods bearing the mark come from the same place and have the same quality.

(3) Serve as the prime instrument to advertise and sell the goods and services (3) Create loyalty and name recognition.

Unlike patent and copyright law, trademark rights last as long as the mark is continuously being used. Use must be in a source-identifying manner in connection with the same products.

Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets provide protection for valuable commercial information. Types of information eligible for trade secret protection are much broader than those that are patentable. These types of information include technologic information, formulas, customer lists, business plans, and marketing strategies. Valuable commercial information is considered to be socially valuable and encourages its productions.

Trade secret protection can last in perpetuity as long as the information remains a secret, and maintain its value. Trade secret law is considered a form of intellectual property law because it creates a protectable interest in valuable information. It is also concerned with the ethical duties and behavior among commercial entities. Trade secret law ultimately encourages competition and fair business dealings both internally and externally.

Learn More about intellectual property by visiting the United States Patent and Trademark Office Website. Have questions about intellectual property? Make an appointment to speak with an intellectual property attorney today!

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