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An Overview of Intellectual Property (IP)

IP is basically an invention, a creation derived from the mind. It can be literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.


What is Intellectual Property (IP)?

IP is basically an invention, a creation derived from the mind. It can be literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.

Intellectual property is divided into four types: Copyrights, Trademarks, Patents, and Trade Secrets. It is necessary to know the rights to each one of these types are granted under separate laws. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work. A trademark usually protects brand names and logos used on goods and services. A patent protects an invention. Trade Secrets typically protect confidential information from which an owner derives value based on its secrecy.

For the purpose of this overview it is worth noting that the focus is on patents and copyrights.

What is a patent?

A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

There are three broad categories that provide rights up to 20 years.

Utility: New and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. A new use for an existing technology is also patentable. A utility patent may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful product.

Design: New, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

Plant: Asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

What is patentable?

To be patentable, the invention or discovery must possess the following attributes:

Utility: Must be useful; i.e., it has a real-world application.

Novelty: Must be new, i.e., the exact same thing must not have existed or been done before.

Non-Obviousness: Must be different enough that the average worker in the field would not have come up with the new invention from what was already known.


Copyright protection is automatic upon creation of an original work, and is the grant of protection by the laws of the U.S. to the authors of ‘original works’ to protect the property of the creator against unauthorized copying/derivative use.  A copyright is available for both published and unpublished works, but registration prior to publication provides beneficial rights. Examples of works covered under copyright protection include literary, musical, software, dramatic choreography, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, and architectural works. In certain circumstances, the business method or specific application of software may also be protected by a patent. Copyrights are good for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. Whether a work is registered or not, it is important to include a copyright notice on your work:

© or the word “copyright”, First year of publication, Name of owner or institution here is an example: © 2012 John Doe. All rights reserved.

International Protection

Protecting Intellectual Property Overseas: Since the rights granted by a U.S. patent and trademark extend only throughout the territory of the United States and have no effect in a foreign country, an inventor who wishes patent and trademark protection in other countries must apply for a patent and trademark in each of the other countries or in regional patent or trademark offices. Almost every country has its own patent or trademark law, and a person desiring a patent or a trademark in a particular country must make an application for patent or trademark in that country, in accordance with the requirements of that country.

The explanations given above are taken from the USPTO website (www.uspto.gov).

For more information visit the United State Copyright Office.