What is Intellectual Property Law?

Are trademarks that protect a brand’s name and image and a photograph both forms of intellectual property? What is intellectual property law? Does this type of law cover anything people might think up or create, or are there limits of some type?

According to the AIPLA (Association for Intellectual Property Lawyers), the legal system in the U.S. protects owners of intellectual property, which they define as “the fruits of mental labor.” AIPLA says that intellectual property rights are defined by federal trademark, copyright and patent laws.

Patent Law

Patent laws protect inventions. In order to obtain a patent, inventors must submit an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Patent law is a highly technical legal field and patent drawings are particularly specialized. Utility patents, which last for 20 years, cover inventions and processes leading to tangible products. Other patents cover ornamental designs and other types of patents cover chemical synthesis and even plants. If you are involved in agriculture, you can receive a patent protecting your right to grow and sell an asexually reproducing plant. Computer software patents are another highly-specialized form of patent law.

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Trademark Law

Trademarks are symbols, names or phrases used by a business or organization. These symbols and phrases make it easier for people to recognize a certain brand or product. Harvard Law School provides the examples of Nike’s swoosh symbol as a trademark name and symbol, and Jiffy Lube’s logo and name as a service mark. Service mark simply means that the symbol and name represent a company that provides a service. Nike and Coca-Cola are trademarks for products that are manufactured. Trademarks are governed by both federal and state law, and if a business uses its trademark on a daily basis, it has a form of protection in common law above and beyond formally filing a trademark application with its business name and logo.

Copyright Law

Books, films, television shows, paintings, musical recordings, photographs: almost anything a person could think up and create is covered by copyright law. Copyright laws are complex and vary from country to country, although treaties cover how intellectual property is protected in various regions, such as Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Copyright law prevents people from copying and selling intellectual property without any benefit to the creator. An entrepreneur who copies a bestselling book and changes the names is a plagiarist, the term for a person who copies written work and presents it as their own. The system of publishers paying royalties to a creator is central to copyright law.

A new alternative to traditional copyright and other intellectual property laws is the system of Creative Commons and licensing. You will find information about Creative Commons at the organization’s website. If you wondered “What is Intellectual Property Law?” the concept of a Creative Commons views creative efforts as something that can be shared, developed, re-mixed and otherwise changed to create ever-evolving new creative works. You may have seen Creative Commons licenses and instructions in many different online works, from writing to videos and music. Some textbooks are now offered free through Creative Commons licenses, not traditional copyrighted work. Copyright, trademark and patent law are continuously evolving forms of law covering the “fruits of the mind.”