Intellectual property owners are usually the people or companies that create inventions, designs, or creative works. When owners take steps to protect their creations, they secure their exclusive rights to them.

About Intellectual Property

The law protects IP using the following forms:

  • Copyright
  • Trademark
  • Patent

Providing IP protection to their owners allows people to benefit financially or earn recognition from what they create. When there's a healthy balance between innovators' and the public's interests, the IP system fosters an environment in which creativity flourishes.

IP laws give creators a temporary monopoly on the use of their inventions. In this globalized era, it's important to protect and regulate IP rights on the international level.

The value of IP cannot be measured using physical properties, such as structure and size. Instead, IP has value because it represents ownership. It also gives owners exclusive rights to the following for their unique creations:

  • Use
  • Reproduction
  • Manufacture
  • Promotion

In a way, it can be one of the most valuable assets a small business or individual owns.

Protecting Different Types of Intellectual Property

Copyright is a legal term that describes creators' rights over their artistic and literary works. There are limited exceptions to this exclusivity, such as “fair use" for such items as book reviews. The following can be copyrighted:

  • Books
  • Paintings
  • Music
  • Film
  • Sculptures
  • Databases
  • Maps
  • Advertisements
  • Computer programs
  • Technical drawings

As technology evolves, the understanding of the word "writings” has necessarily expanded. The Copyright Act now also covers the following:

  • Graphic arts
  • Sound recordings
  • Software
  • Architectural design

The copyright field is almost exclusively regulated by the federal government in order to avoid the inconsistency of state law. The current law dictates that works are copyrighted, whether or not they are registered or have a copyright notice attached to them.

Patents are exclusive rights to an invention. The patent owner has the rights to decide if, or how, others may use the invention. To obtain these rights, patent owners must publicly disclose technical information about the invention. Patents are a limited monopoly since once they expire after a set period of time, anyone can make, sell, or use the invention.

Trademarks are signs or symbols that distinguish the services or goods of one brand from others. Companies use trademarks to make the source of the product or service clear to consumers. These signs date back to ancient times, when artists would put their mark or signature on their creations. 

Trademarks are important assets for companies, as these marks allow them to establish a reputation. They don't have to worry that a competitor — especially one offering an inferior product — will harm their reputation or affect their profits due to deceiving customers.

Trademarks may include the following:

  • Logos
  • Symbols
  • Names

Traditionally, trademarks only applied to goods, but if a business provided a service, a “service mark” had the same function. These days, trademarks cover services as well as products.

Other Rights

An industrial design involves the aesthetic or ornamental aspect of an article. A design may have three-dimensional features, like the shape or surface, or two-dimensional features, like color, lines, and patterns.

Geographical indications are signs applied to goods that have a specific geographical origin. They also possess characteristics, qualities, or a reputation that's tied to that place of origin. Most commonly, geographical indications include the name of the place of origin.

A trade secret is information that is not known to the public. It's proprietary information relating to a commercial product's development. Trade secrets are protected without registering them with any government agency. There's no way to file a trade secret, since they are protected as long as no one divulges it.

If you own any intellectual property, it's important to protect your rights as much as possible. While some types of IP protection don't require registration, other types, like patents, cost time and money. You may want to consult with an attorney who specializes in the IP field if you're unsure about your rights.

Understanding more about trademarks, copyrights, etc. can also help you avoid infringing on someone else's rights. Even if you engage in accidental infringement, the consequences can be costly.

If you need help with intellectual property protection, 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.