Intellectual property information relates to the intangible assets that people and businesses own. Although IP doesn't have the structure of tangible assets, it still holds value. For many companies, IP is among their most valuable asset.

Intellectual Property

IP rights protect people's creations in the following forms:

While the federal government largely controls the IP field, state law governs some aspects of it.

IP is used to describe a wide array of property created by inventors, artists, authors, and musicians. In general, IP protection is intended to encourage the development of information, art, and science by giving certain rights to the creators. By giving creators these rights, they're able to protect themselves against infringement, or the unauthorized use of their creations.

Trademarks protect distinctive features — such as logos, package designs, and names — associated with particular services or goods that indicate a commercial source. Copyright and patent laws date back to eighteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain, respectively, and have been part of U.S. law from colonial times.

Congress passed the first trademark laws late in the nineteenth century. The Commerce Clause gives them their constitutional authority.

Other Forms of Intellectual Property

IP law also includes laws relating to the following: 

  • Unfair competition
  • Trade secrets
  • Publicity rights

Trade secret laws protect devices, patterns, formulas, or a compilation of information that give one business a competitive edge over its rivals.

One example of a trade secret is a strategy that can increase worker productivity. Trade secrets aren't inventive, so they don't receive patent protection. Trade secret laws fall under IP laws since they're designed to prevent unauthorized use of intangible subject matter.

A person's right to control the exploitation and commercial value of his or her likeness, voice, or name is the right of publicity. Since right-of-publicity laws cover commercial and artistic pursuits, they fall under IP law. These laws usually only apply to public figures and celebrities whose brand is vital to their career. Allowing celebrities to control rights to their brand gives them the ability to protect their commercial potential.

Modern IP Rights

IP, or the products that result from human invention, is usually characterized as non-rivalrous public goods, meaning that more than one person can use the same product without decreasing its availability to others.

IP law may be considered analogous to laws relating to tangible property since both involve property owners and their rights. Still, IP law is distinct and separate from tangible property law.

The core of tangible property law is the right of exclusive possession. This includes a bundle of rights that provide protection for real and personal property, including chattel and land. This isn't the case with intellectual property, however.

IP law provides incentive to inventors and authors to produce works that benefit the public. The motivation for creative types to create is the regulation of the public's use of these inventions. In this way, inventors and authors receive compensation for their hard work. 

The intellectual property clause in the U.S. Constitution gives Congress its authority to regulate copyrights and patents. The agency that issues and monitors registered trademarks and patents is the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO.       

While the federal government has exclusive authority to govern patents, state laws allow for some regulation of trademarks. As with patents, the federal government exclusively regulates copyrights. 

States generally regulate trade secrets. Traditionally, trade secrets have been subject to the laws of unfair competition. Unless a state law expressly states the opposite, designs are generally not protected as IP.

There are many complexities to IP law, so consulting with an expert in the field is recommended if you have any questions about how it pertains to you, your business, and your creations. Not only do you want to reap the benefits of your hard work, you also must take steps to ensure you're not infringing on someone else's rights.

IP protections are designed to encourage innovation and advancements. These protections benefit society as a whole, since authors, artists, inventors, and other creatives will be more likely to share their ideas and inventions when they know their rights to their works are protected.

If you need help with intellectual property, 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, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.