What is Intellectual Property?
The word ‘property’ is typically associated with the ownership of something tangible: a car‚ a piece of land‚ a home‚ etc. These tangible items are known as “real property.” Legally‚ the concept of ownership of real property is more accurately described as the ownership of a “bundle of rights.” When one owns a home‚ he or she owns a bundle of rights in that home. These rights typically include‚ among others‚ the right to enter and use that home‚ the right to exclude others from entering the home‚ and the right to sell the home or lease it to another.
But what is intellectual property? While real property is tangible‚ intellectual property refers to intangibles: methods‚ ideas‚ creations‚ designs‚ logos‚ brand names‚ works of art‚ recipes‚ formulas‚ and others. The law allows individuals and corporations to exercise ownership over these intangibles. In other words‚ creators of ideas‚ methods‚ or works of art may own a bundle of rights associated with their creation. An owner of intellectual property may have several rights associated with such ownership‚ including the right to make commercial use of their intellectual property‚ the right to license it for use by another‚ the right to exclude others from using it‚ and the right to sell their interest in their intellectual property.
Intellectual property is divided into four major areas: Patent‚ Trademark‚ Copyright‚ and Trade Secret. Each of these areas offers a different method of protection for different types of intellectual property. Patent law typically protects inventions such as methods or machinery for performing a task‚ compositions‚ or designs. Trademark law protects commercial branding such as logos‚ trade dress‚ and brand names. Copyright law protects original or expressive creations such as musical works‚ drawings‚ or computer coding. Finally‚ Trade Secret law protects formulas‚ methods‚ or designs that are capable of being kept secret. Just as one protects their home from intrusion or a car from theft‚ an individual or business may protect their intellectual property from being exploited by another. Protecting one’s intellectual property helps enable that business or individual to derive a commercial benefit from their intellectual property.
While the four major areas of intellectual property are distinct‚ there is significant overlap among them. One company may own some or all of the four types of intellectual property associated with making and selling the same product. For example‚ the Coca-Cola Company’s secret formula for their famous soft drink is protected as a trade secret. The Coca-Cola brand name and logo are protected as trademarks. The machinery through which the Coca-Cola Company produces and bottles its beverages is protected by patent law‚ as is the well-known contour Coca-Cola bottle. Finally‚ the numerous jingles and songs used in Coca-Cola television and radio commercials are protected by copyright law.
To better understand what intellectual property truly is‚ one should examine each of the four major areas of protection. This guide will cover each area of intellectual property in detail‚ provide examples of each type of intellectual property‚ and explain the overlap among the major areas of protection.