Intellectual property is the legal definition for ideas, inventions, artistic works and other commercially viable products created out of one’s own mental process. Intellectual property is protected by legal agreements such as patents, copyrights and trademark registrations. Intellectual property is considered similar to physical property under the law in that it can be legally sold, exchanged, traded or abandoned.

Not all ideas are considered intellectual property under the law. Commercial viability is a factor that must be present in order to establish intellectual property and establish proper protections for such property. Inventors and those in creative fields should protect their commercially viable ideas through the official registration of their ideas and trade secrets.

Issues addressed by intellectual property laws include trademarks, copyright, patents and theft of trade secrets.

Trademark

A trademark is a symbol, word or phrase that uniquely identifies a particular company or individual. Most people are immediately familiar with such trademark symbols at the “Nike swoosh” or trademark brand names like “Band-Aid.”

Trademarks should be registered with agencies including the United States Patent and Trade Office for legal protection. Once a company or individual successfully registers a trademark, a circled “R” or the abbreviation “Reg. TM” can be legally imprinted on a product or slogan. Companies and individuals who have registered a trademark may pursue legal avenues to protect it.

Copyright

Copyright is a legal term indicating the creator of an original work has exclusive rights to that work. A copyright is established to ensure the creator receives credit for his or her work. A copyright also gives the creator a voice in how his or her work is used, adapted, performed, and who may receive financial benefit from the work.

Patents

Patents grant an inventor the right to prohibit others, whether individuals or corporations, from using and producing the inventor’s invention for a limited period of time. U.S. Patent Laws were established and made into law by Congress under its Constitutional grant of authority to protect the invention and discoveries of inventors.

Patent law is a specific area of the law that deals with the legal regulations, jurisprudence and enforcement of specific intellectual property rights known as patent rights. A patent is considered intellectual property, and so can be treated like physical property in that it can be legally sold, exchanged, traded or abandoned.

Theft of Trade Secrets

A trade secret is a piece of information used in business that is an ingredient of a product. This does not necessarily mean that it is a food or drink secret. A trade secret can be used in any business or product. It can be used to make a product, or it can be a part of marketing and sales methods. A trade secret is information that is not available to the public. A trade secret is considered intellectual property.

When a trade secret is violated, it is said to be “misappropriated” or stolen. Generally, a business must prove three things when alleging theft of trade secret:

  • It did in fact own the trade secret.
  • he trade secret was wrongfully taken by the other party.
  • The party who stole the trade secret used that trade secret to his or her advantage.

Trade secrets are generally considered rights created by common law, so they are not protected by the same intellectual property laws that govern things like patents and trademarks.


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