What are the intellectual property guidelines as defined by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice? The term, “intellectual property” essentially refers to ideas or content that was birthed from the creative mind. For example: literature, works of art (painting, photography, etc.) are examples of intellectual property, as are things used in the marketplace, such as names and graphic designs.

“Real property” is land and, “personal property” are physical items that can generally be moved. As you can see, these last two are comparatively straightforward, whereas there isn’t necessarily a physical item attached to intellectual property.

Different Types of Intellectual Property

Because it can be somewhat vague (and, therefore difficult) to define intellectual property, there are actually four types…

  • Copyright: Copyright protections apply to original works that have been, in some form, printed (online, written down, typed, etc.). The author of the material only holds the protection for a limited period of time. This is evident in the film or theatre adaptations of older works, like Shakespeare and Dickens.
  • Trademark: Trademark protections last indefinitely, provided that the trademark is still in use. Examples of famous trademarks: the swoosh on the side of Nike sneakers, the five, colored circles symbolizing the Olympics, and the leprechaun, flexing his muscles that we associate with the University of Notre Dame. This is also a favorite among the Hollywood set, to protect their names or images being used without their permission. Several years ago, director Spike Lee sued the television network Spike TV, citing that it could cause people to think he was somehow associated with the network.
  • Patent: Much like copyright protections, patent protections are only valid for a limited period of time. Patents allow inventors to take their intellectual property (ideas) and manufacture it, without someone else coming along and taking their idea. This is also a reason as to why patents are only allowable for limited periods of time: it prevents the inventor for having an indefinite monopoly on that sector, while also preventing them from sitting on an idea without ever using it.
  • Trade Secrets: This is where businesses or corporations take ownership over an employees ideas, content or inventions. If you work in a field such as research and development, chances are you will be signing non-compete clauses and other various legal documents that allow your employer to use your intellectual property even after you leave the company. For an employer to argue trade secret laws, however, the information must actually be a secret. For example, the secret ingredient in New York City pizza that makes it far superior to that of the rest of the country.

Intellectual Property in Academia

College students also own the intellectual property rights to their projects such as research papers and dissertations. Basically, this means that a professor cannot publish a student’s paper, or use ideas, without his or her permission. Students are not generally considered employees of the college which they are attending, and therefore are not subject to the same guidelines as faculty members regarding intellectual property that is created at the school.

Thievery Is Bad

Particularly in the age of the internet, the lines of intellectual property are constantly being crossed, as we share memes and other people’s posts on social media, or post something that we read and try to pass it off as our own. The reality is, there is entirely too much content out there for it to all be effectively policed. However, if you are a writer, researcher, public official, or someone who may otherwise be scrutinized, you probably have a greater sensitivity to not wanting to be taking credit for someone else’s intellectual property.

Somehow, we have all come to believe that anything found on the internet is fair game. This is actually not true, and it is generally copyrighted, by default. If you are going to re-type something that you read online and post it, even if you paraphrase it, you will want to give credit to the original poster. Not only is it a professional courtesy, it can spare you a lot of headaches down the road.

Don’t Panic! Protect Yourself and Others

If you need help with intellectual property guidelines, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.