Sunday, January 22, 2012

Intellectual Property

©Marcy Dyer

Intellectual property is a broad term that covers many areas including copyrights, patents, and logos. Because the laws that define and protect intellectual property are so broad and encompass three very different areas, the interpretation of the term 'intellectual property' has become a bone of contention.

"When someone uses the term 'intellectual property,' typically he's either confused himself, or trying to confuse you." Richard Stallman

Copyright protection is one area of intellectual property. A copyright will protect literary works, music, plays, choreography, photos, paintings, drawings, sculptures, movies, sound recordings, architecture, computer programs and websites.

A copyright will NOT protect an idea. For example, two authors may have the same idea to write a book on the history of widgets. Undoubtedly, those books will be vastly different when written because we all develop our ideas differently. 

However, once the book is written, it becomes protected because it is now a literary work and no longer just an idea.

Patents also fall under the purview of intellectual property. Patents protect methods that are novel. In order to obtain a patent, your work must not be know or used by others in the US. It must be non-obvious and it must have some current significant use.

Patent protection requires full public disclosure of the work and therefore the processes are fully known and cannot be held as a trade secret.

Once a patent is granted, the person obtaining it has a twenty year monopoly on selling, distributing, or making the goods under the patent.

Trademarks are the third prong of intellectual property. A trademark is a word or symbol that represents a product to distinguish it from another in the market place. For example, Dr. Pepper is the trademarked name for a beverage and the blue bird is the trademarked symbol for Twitter.

Trademarks must be registered either by filing a use application or an intent to use application. The "registered" symbol may not be used until the registration is received from the PTO.

In this day and age, the term "intellectual property" is used frequently and often interchangeably with the terms copyright, trademark, or patent but it is actually an all-encompassing term. 

Furthermore, intellectual property refers to the creation of something using ones intellect. Whether the creation is literature, art, or music, it is the creation, not the idea, that is protected.


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