Intellectual Property

Intellectual property law focuses on things created by our minds. Unlike other forms of property, such as real estate or personal property, intellectual property results from our mental efforts. Intellectual property includes patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.

In a broad sense intellectual property (IP) refers to things created by our minds. Unlike land (real estate), which already exists, and goods, which we manufacture from physical materials, IP results from our mental efforts. In a more formal sense, IP is a set of legal rights related to products of the human mind.

Intellectual property is often said to be “intangible”, but this can be misleading because each of the main categories of IP can involve tangible objects. For example, a smart phone can be patented, a container shape can be a trademark and a sculpture can be a copyrighted work. We can however, think of IP as being intangible in that it originates from our thoughts.

Types of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property includes the following main categories:

Each of these categories protects different kinds of things and provides a different set of rights. Each category of IP has very different rules and regulations for perfecting and enforcing its rights.

Exclusive Rights

Intellectual property law provides for certain exclusive rights to the owner of the property. Just as a land owner has the right to prevent trespassers from using her land, an intellectual property holder has the right to prevent others from doing certain things with the property. These rights are often described as monopolies.  In fact, intellectual property law is one of the few exceptions to the government’s policy of discouraging monopolies. The rights provided by intellectual property law are powerful. These rights are some of the most powerful legal rights in business. As we have seen in recent court battles, intellectual property can lead to some very large judgments.  The consequences for infringement can be severe and sometimes the value of a company’s intellectual property can be greater than the company’s business.