What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is a term relating to ideas including inventions, stories, music, design, etc. The protection of these ideas by U.S. law fall under these categories:

Patents protect inventors by preventing others from unauthorized manufacture, use, importation, or sale of the invention for (depending upon the type of patent) up to 20 years. It is a monopoly that can be licensed or sold to others for a limited time before that knowledge may be used freely by others.

Trademark refers to the type of protection of brand names or services. This is from the USPTO:

 A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services

Trade Dress is part of Trademark and refers to protection of a product’s design, including its shape, size, and overall appearance.

Trade Secrets fall under the Uniform Trade Secret Act. the USPTO defines it as:

“Trade secrets consist of information and can include a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or process. To meet the most common definition of a trade secret, it must be used in business, and give an opportunity to obtain an economic advantage over competitors who do not know or use it.”



Copyrights can cover both published and unpublished works. Here is how the U.S. Copyright office defines it:

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

While these are the major forms of intellectual property law, it doesn’t stop there. Trade Law, Importation, Licensing, and so many other disciplines are also involved.