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 What is Intellectual Property?

  • A product of the intellect that may have commercial value
  • A creation of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce

Our Founding Fathers thought intellectual property was so important to our nascent capitalist democracy that they enshrined it in our Constitution, thusly...

Constitution of the United States of America
Article 1, Section 8
Powers of Congress

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries..."

 There are Four Ways to Protect Intellectual Property:

  1. Copyrights
  2. Trade Secrets
  3. Patents
  4. Trademarks


  • Protects "original works of authorship" fixed in a tangible form of expression
  • The Copyright Office is an Agency of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
  • Each form of expression has its own copyright form
Copyright owners have the exclusive right to...
  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare derivative works
  • Distribute copies
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Display the work publicly
  • Or to authorize others to do so
The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors. To determine the length of copyright protection for a particular work, consult chapter 3 of the Copyright Act (title 17 of the United States Code). More information on the term of copyright can be found in Circular 15a, Duration of Copyright, and Circular 1, Copyright Basics. —

Anyone may use the © to claim copyright whether or not they register their creation with the Copyright Office.

 Trade Secrets

Under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”), a trade secret is defined as information that derives independent economic value because it is not generally known or readily ascertainable, and it is the subject of efforts to maintain secrecy. Unlike copyrights, patents, and trademarks, trade secrets are not registered with a government agency. However, in some cases, they can represent a company’s most valuable intellectual property assets. The UTSA has been enacted by most states, but in states where it has not been enacted, infringement or “misappropriation” of a trade secret remains a common law tort. Common issues involving trade secrets are:
  • Nondisclosure Agreements
  • Noncompete Agreements
  • Infringement
  • Enforcement
Examples of Trade Secrets: Recipes
  • Coca-Cola
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken
Trade secrets can also be:
  • formulas
  • patterns
  • compilations
  • software programs & algorithms
  • devices
  • methods
  • techniques
  • processes
Benefits of Trade Secrets
  • No fees
  • No registration
  • No time limits
  • Gives the business an advantage over competitors
The Downside: (again from
Trade secrets are easily misappropriated. Often, they consist of information that can be memorized or noted down by employees, customers, developers, suppliers, and others. The more people know a trade secret in an economy where employee turnover is high, the harder it is to keep the information secret. If a competitor, journalist, or blogger gets hold of the trade secret, the information may be put to use immediately. Once a trade secret becomes public, its status as a trade secret may be lost.


In the language of the patent law statute...
...any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,” subject to the conditions and requirements of the law. The word “process” is defined by law as a process, act, or method, and primarily includes industrial or technical processes. The term “machine” used in the statute needs no explanation. The term “manufacture” refers to articles that are made, and includes all manufactured articles. The term “composition of matter” relates to chemical compositions and may include mixtures of ingredients as well as new chemical compounds. These classes of subject matter taken together include practically everything that is made by man and the processes for making the products.
There are Three Types of Patents
  1. Utility Patent -
    • Machine, Article of Manufacture, Process, Composition of Matter, Business Methods (since mid-90’s court decision)
    • Any new, useful improvement of the above
    • Term: 20 years from filing date
  2. Design Patent -

    Design patents are not classified by the Cooperative Patent Classification system because the U.S. is the only country that issues what is actually called a design patent. Countries other than the U.S. do not offer design patents, but there is usually a registration system for industrial designs.For more information, see the Patent Searching link in the left sidebar menu.

    • Granted for a new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
    • Only the appearance is protected
    • Term: 14 years from the date the patent is granted
  3. Plant Patent -
    (from The law also provides for the granting of a patent to anyone who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced any distinct and new variety of plant, including cultivated sports, mutants, hybrids, and newly found seedlings, other than a tuber-propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state.

    Asexually propagated plants are those that are reproduced by means other than from seeds, such as by the rooting of cuttings, by layering, budding, grafting, inarching, etc.

    With reference to tuber-propagated plants, for which a plant patent cannot be obtained, the term “tuber” is used in its narrow horticultural sense as meaning a short, thickened portion of an underground branch. Such plants covered by the term “tuber-propagated” are the Irish potato and the Jerusalem artichoke.
    • Term: 20 years from filing date.
To be granted a patent, your idea must have:
  • Novelty
  • Nonobviousness
  • Utility
Researching prior art: (to make sure no one has already invented your idea)
  1. U.S. Patents and published patent applications
  2. Foreign Patents and published patent applications
  3. Journal and magazine articles
  4. Books, manuals, and catalogs
  5. Websites
  6. Conference proceedings
  7. Scientific papers


What is a Trademark?

Any word, name, symbol, Device (or any combination thereof) used to identify and distinguish goods or services and to indicate their source.

Other things that have been trademarked:

  • a color: (e.g.: Tiffany Blue, UPS Brown)
  • a scent, as long as the scent isn't the essential function (e.g.: Verizon stores waft a scent they trademarked)
  • a sound (e.g.: NBC chime was the first)