Intellectual Property Law Basics
Intellectual property refers to intangible creations of the human intellect, and primarily includes copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Artistic works like music and literature, as well as some inventions, designs, words, phrases, & symbols can all fall under the intellectual property umbrella. The intangible nature of intellectual property presents challenges when compared with traditional property like land. Unlike land, intellectual property is indivisible; however, the ownership of intellectual property can be shared by more than one person. Also, a landowner can surround his land with a fence to protect it, but the owner of intellectual property like a film or sound recording can sometimes do very little to stop a buyer from making copies and selling them more cheaply. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (uspto.gov) is the federal agency that oversees the application process for obtaining patent and trademark protection. Protection for copyrights is handled by the US Copyright office (copyright.gov). The primary purpose of modern intellectual property law is to encourage the creation of a wide variety of intellectual goods for consumers. Intellectual property law does this by protecting the rights of writers, designers, artists, inventors, and other creators. “Infringement” refers to the violation of intellectual property rights with respect to copyrights, patents and trademarks. Infringement occurs when someone copies or sells another person’s work without permission. Infringement may be a breach of criminal or civil law, depending on the nature of the action, jurisdiction, and type of intellectual property involved. Since the early 2000’s new international treaties and laws have extended protection for intellectual property throughout most of the world. But if you need to apply for intellectual property protection outside the United States, you should consult with an attorney who focuses on intellectual property law.