by: Joseph Page
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Intellectual Property

Patents, Copyright, and Trademarks

Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property is that which creative human thought may produce – to which a government might afford ownership. Generally, protection of intellectual property is provided in law to advance those arts and sciences which depend upon creativity. Songs, poems, novels, inventions, machines, discoveries, names, slogans, recipes, among others are example forms of intellectual properties.
Intellectual property is generally characterized as an 'intangible' property. While it is easy to understand how one owns the kitchen table in their house – a table is a tangible property, it is more difficult to understand how one might come into the ownership of a name, song, method or other creative 'thing' which is not concrete in nature.
A legal right to these intangible things is conveyed in patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, all of which are considered 'Intellectual Property'.
Patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets or " intellectual property " – may refer to that which comes from the creative mind. Intellectual property is imagination converted into a discrete form and made real. Intellectual property is an asset just like your home, your car, or your bank account. You may buy, sell, rent, inherit, license, et cetera, intellectual property just as if it were a kitchen table or any other tangible property. Like other kinds of property, intellectual property can be protection from theft and misuse.
Often, laypersons fail to clearly distinguish between the types of intellectual property: patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets – each of which are associated with different attributes and serve different purposes. Although there may be some similarities among the various kinds of intellectual property, they are distinct and they are configured with rules to support different function which is clear and particular. In brief: patents are for inventions like machines and methods; copyrights are for songs, poems, recordings, films, and matter of that nature; trademarks for identification of the source of goods – so the fanciful names of products; and trade secrets for all those things you'd like to prevent competitor from having if you strictly maintain it as a secret.


Patents give inventors a right to exclude all others from making, using, selling an invention for a limited time or 'patent term' which is presently 20 years from the date a patent application is filed. Such exclusive right or patent monopoly yields opportunity for the inventor to solely profit from her creation, or license others to do so in exchange for a fee.
Patents are issued by a government and they are strictly territorial. In the U.S., patents are granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO. An application for patent is examined for patentability in view of all patent laws, and after reviewing a patent application an examiner may grant a patent. While the process may be similar in most nations, great differences remain. In particular, it is still quite possible to protect computer inventions in the United States – however Europe has a great aversion towards such concept. Drugs may be affored strong protection in some nations, while others preclude ownership of such matter which benefits the health of the citizenry. In the United States, one is not obligated to license a patent and may charge whatever they like for a license. In some nations, one is compelled to license a patent at a price deemed fair by the court. A single United States patent is quite similarly valid in all 50 states. In Europe, a patent which may be strongly enforced in one nation may be rejected entirely in another. Each nation in Europe follows its own principles for invention rights.
Since a patent only entitles its holder to exclude others from certain activity, it is important to understand that this does not convey any permission to do anything with regard to the invention. It is entirely possible and indeed quite common that despite holding a valid patent on an invention, that another person having another earlier patent might have a legally established right to exclude you from some activity. Thus, the question of whether one infringes another person's patent is different than the question of patentability – that is, is one permitted the right to their own patent.


Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish and identify the source goods and services. Trademarks may be infinitely renewed without term expiration so long as they are being used in commerce.
Harley Davidson motorcycles attempted to trademark the rough sound of their motors – however, this was rejected as not distinguishing enough. However in contrast, even the roar of the MGM lion was held as a distinguishing brand. The green color of the John Deere tractor was not permitted as green is associated with the service of tractors, however the pink of the insulation made by Owens-Corning is protected; the color pink has nothing whatever to do with insulation.
You can register a trademark or claim common law< use (no official registration). Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the identical goods or from selling the identical goods or services under a clearly different mark. The identity of the source of goods is protected – not the goods itself.


Copyrights protect works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed. In the United States the Library of Congress registers copyrights, which last for the life of the author plus 70 years. Gone With The Wind (the book and film), Back Street Boys' recordings, and video games are all works that are copyrighted. Only the copyright holder can reproduce or profit from his/her works or transfer those rights.

Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors. The formula for Coca-Cola is a most famous trade secret.

Copyright IIP 2011
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Patent Services Header Intellectual Property Patent Agent, patent attorney, patent law Patent Topic: "Intellectual Property" Patent Attorney Invention HOME IP Tip: #3
When looking for the patents belonging to another, it is sometimes best to perform a search using the patent owner's name; i.e. the 'assignee'.  This may be a company name for example: GeoVector Corporation.  Go to the USPTO search website and type precisely: an/geovector  - into the query textbox.  Then click on "search" button to see all patents assigned to GeoVector Corp. Patent Attorney, Patent law Assignee Search
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