Intellectual property includes a few concepts like patents and copyrights that you might already have a passing familiarity with. The interesting thing is that while many of these terms are taken for granted today, the field of intellectual property law didn’t formally take shape until the 19th century. Some parts of the world are still without a comprehensive intellectual property framework, but that’s not the case in the United States. According to Chicago business lawyers, these are the highlights of intellectual property law.
Four Main Areas
In the United States, intellectual property law typically includes four distinct areas: trade secrets, patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Before getting into each of these areas in detail, the purpose of intellectual property law should be stated.
Why does a society need intellectual property protection at all? The answer is that having intellectual property protection in the form of patents and copyrights encourages innovation from companies and consumer protection.
Without intellectual property protection – a condition that sadly prevails in less developed parts of the world – businesses are less secure and far less innovative. For businesses operating without intellectual property protection domestically or abroad, there’s the constant threat that a rival business will poach their idea or reverse engineer one of their products.
Having intellectual property protection prevents your designs and product names from being stolen, and this protection can extend for years or decades past the time that you originally file for, say, a copyright for your original authorship. But that’s getting ahead of things. Let’s start by defining what trade secrets are..
Part of the difficulty in thinking about intellectual property is that this kind of “property” is intangible, unlike other kinds of property like the personal belongings in your home or your home itself. Intellectual property is somewhat different and includes trade secrets and patents.
Trade secrets are things like business practices and commercial methods that form a blueprint for your business to enjoy a competitive advantage over the competition. Perhaps you have found a new method for manufacturing a particular product. This may be grist for intellectual property protection in the form of a trade secrets. Trade secrets, though, must not already be known by basically everyone – that wouldn’t be much of a secret, would it? – and should not be reasonable ascertainable.
A copyright is the intellectual property right that gives the creator of an original creative work the legal right to authorize when and how a particular product can be copied or used by other individuals. Copyrights, like patents, are only good for a specified number of years.
A patent is intellectual property protection that gives you a legal right to be the exclusive maker and seller of a particular product. Patent protection means that your rivals will be disallowed from making, using, or selling a product like yours. Patents only last for a certain number of years, however. In the most technical sense, you are trading your enabling public disclosure of a particular invention for patent protection. Enabling public disclosure in intellectual property law parlance means “sufficiency of disclosure,” or describing your claimed invention in sufficient detail to the patent office to receive a specific patent.
A trademark, represented by a “TM” or “R” symbol, protects a recognizable business design or sign that’s associated with a particular brand or product.