Intellectual Property (IP) refers to people’s creations, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images used in commerce. Article 1, §8 of the United States Constitution and common law provide incentives for creators and inventors to create by giving them an exclusivity of rights so they can benefit from a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Such IP rights are protected by patent law, trademark law, copyright law, and trade secrets law.
A patent is a grant of property right for an invention to the inventor by the United States. An invention can be any “new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.” Presently, this also includes improvements to software processes. The grant of right allows the inventor to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling, or importing the invention for a period of 20 years from the date of application in the United States. By disclosing the invention, the inventor allows others to learn and improve the particular field of science.
A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or image that is used on goods in commerce to show the source of the goods and distinguish the goods from that of others. Protection of the trademark is given to those who register and maintain the trademark with the USPTO. Such protection allows trademark owners to preserve the brand’s good will and fight against unfair competition, which include infringements.
Copyrights protect “original works of authorship,” which include creative works such as literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other published/unpublished works. Generally, copyrights allow the owners to have the exclusive right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies/phonorecords of the work, and to perform or display the work publicly.
Trade secrets are protected and confidential ideas, which include manufacturing, industrial, or business/commercial secrets. Any unauthorized use of such information by a person constitutes unfair competition and that person can be prosecuted under commercial espionage, breach of contract, and breach of confidence laws.