Explore the Four Areas of IP Law

Intellectual Property Law includes patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. All of these areas are related in that they deal with protecting products of the mind but in other ways they are very different.

Patent Law

Patents grant inventors the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, importing, or selling the invention in the United States. There are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Patents have been used to protect a wide variety of famous inventions such as the light bulb, the internal combustible engine, Barbie, the Google search engine, as well as the ornamental appearance of products such as sneakers, jewelry, sunglasses, and even the shape of cars.

Copyright Law

Copyrights cover original works fixed in any tangible medium of expression, such as literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, and other intellectual works. Copyrights are granted to authors, whether the original works are published or unpublished. Copyrights protect the books you read, the movies you see, the music you listen to, the software that runs on your computers and smartphones, and even the blueprints for your home. Today, a lot of work in the copyright area involves applying this body of law to electronic and digital media to control its duplication and distribution.

Trademark Law

Trademarks include any word, name, symbol, or device (combination thereof) used to identify and distinguish goods or services and to indicate the source of those goods or services. Trademarks can consist of words, images, colors, sounds, distinctive packaging, and even smells like the distinctive aroma of Play-Doh! Owners of strong trademarks must be vigilant about protecting their trademarks to avoid losing them if they become generic words such as aspirin, thermos, and escalator.

Trade Secrets

Trade secret law provides protection for proprietary information used by a business enterprise. This can include protection for technological and business know-how that is maintained in secret. One of the most famous examples of a trade secret is the exact recipe for Coca-Cola.