IP Law Basics Part 1 – What is Intellectual Property?

November 29, 2016

You may have heard the term “intellectual property” (IP for short), but do you know what intellectual property is? The World Intellectual Property Organization defines intellectual property as “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”

In the United States, there are four primary categories of intellectual property that are protectable by a combination of state, federal and case law:

  1. Patent – protects inventions and discoveries
  2. Trade Secret – protects confidential business information
  3. Trademark – protects words, phrases and symbols that identify the source of goods or services
  4. Copyright – protects original works of authorship

So why should anyone except a lawyer care about intellectual property? Depending on the nature of your business and your goals, one or more types of intellectual property may be useful as you develop a product, brand, or service. Further, having an awareness of the different types of intellectual property can help you avoid potential liability for infringing on the rights of another intellectual property owner.

In this four-part series, I’ll break down the different categories of intellectual property for you and include specific examples of how individuals and companies have used each to protect their creations.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this series, which will focus on patents and trade secrets.

Matt Landis is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University School of Law and works regularly with business owners and entrepreneurs.