The definition of the term intellectual property (IP) covers a lot of intangible assets. IP refers to any valuable asset that is proprietary and intangible. This includes creative ideas, knowledge, and expressions of the human mind which have some form of commercial value and as such, are protectable under trademark, service mark, trade secret, patent or copyright laws from dilution, infringement, and imitation.

Intellectual property also includes the ownership of things such as writings, artwork, symbols, designs, names, and other creations including video and audio clips that are downloaded online.

Due to their intangible nature, it is more challenging to protect IP than other kinds of property. For instance, tangible items such as cars can be replaced or recovered if stolen; but it is difficult to replace or recover intellectual property.

A person could come up with an innovative idea or invention but if it is stolen, the potential profit to be made on the invention goes along with it. This is also the case when a new song is leaked online and it is downloaded and redistributed by thousands of people. In such situations, the potential profit to be gotten from selling the music may diminish substantially.

Due to its monetary implications, IP is the legal term used to safeguard the right of inventors and creators. It is particularly important to companies in the media production industry who need to protect the rights to distribute their digital media.

To ensure legal protection for their creations and ideas, creators and innovators need to define and establish their intellectual property rights. This is done by trademarking logos, names, and brands, acquiring patents for their inventions, and copyrighting all written works. Doing this sooner is better for creators since it is infinitely easier to protect their creations before it is stolen than after the fact.

Intellectual property also refers to all the sections of a business that an owner and employee has thought of and planned for. This is the main difference between a business and a competing one, their modus operandi.

IPs are valuable and as such their owners should take every possible step to protect them. The U.S. government has created laws to protect inventors and creators from individuals who want to use or steal an IP without the owner's permission. There are four major kinds of protections available to intellectual properties and they are copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secrets.

Copyright

Copyright protection is reserved for creative works such as art or writings. The kind of works usually covered by copyrights include movies, graphic designs, blog posts, articles, architectural drawings, software, and books.

Trademark

Trademarks are used to protect designs, symbols, combinations of words or original words that individuals create to represent their business. Any word with the TM symbol at its end means that trademark protection has been claimed while an R means that the trademark has been registered.

Patent

This form of protection is given to process or product inventions and gives the creator exclusive control over the use of their idea or product. There are three kinds of patent and they are:

  • Design: original graphical representations
  • Utility: for machine or processes
  • Plants: fauna and flora

Trade secrets

This is given to techniques, programs, or special formulas developed for the owner's business use. Examples of trade secrets include a masseuse's particular techniques or Coke's secret formula.

Although it is an intangible asset, IP's may be more important to the success of a business than other tangible assets.

When used in legal circles by intellectual property attorneys, the term “intellectual property” is used to designate the following areas of law: trademark, copyright, and patent.

These are intangible interests that have been defined and have protection under common or statutory law.

Although IP is widely used and accepted by attorneys today, the use of the term has a controversial and fascinating history. Since it came into wide use in the 1870s, scholars and activists alike continue to battle over whether the patent system should be abolished.

The controversy arises from the imprecise definition of the term. On one hand, some parties agree that intellectual property should be restricted to trademark, patent, and copyright law while on the other, others use the term to designate industrial design, rights of publicity, and trade secrets, among other things.

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