No matter what product your business makes or service it provides, it is likely that your business is frequently using and creating a great deal of intellectual property. So, what is intellectual property? Intellectual property, sometimes referred to by its initials, IP, refers to creations of the human mind that are protected by one or both of state or federal law in a fashion similar to real property (land) or personal property (an automobile). Inventions, literary and artistic works, business secrets, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce are all considered intellectual property. The four forms of intellectual property are patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets.
- Patents provide the right to exclude others from making, using and selling or offering for sale an invention that has been patented.
- Copyrights protect an expression of an idea reduced to a tangible form. For example, a work of art, this blog on intellectual property, a statue or a photograph is protected by copyright.
- A trademark protects a product or service by its name in such a way as to avoid confusion in the marketplace of the source of the product or services.
- A trade secret refers to a secret that one might use in their trade or business but which would provide an unfair advantage to another if taken. An example is the process and formula for making a special soda beverage or a recipe for cookie dough.
These four components all make up what is known as intellectual property. The Constitution defines what may be protected by federal law, namely, patents, copyrights and trademarks. Trademarks may also be registered in a state and both trademarks and trade secrets are regulated by state law. One can only register a copyright or apply for a patent through the federal government and can only enforce their registered copyright or issued patent in federal court. Though it may seem abstract at times, it is important to note that intellectual property is just as valuable as tangible property and is regulated by the federal and governments in this manner.