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What is Intellectual Property?

“Intellectual Property” is the body of law that protects the fruits of human intelligence: our inventions, our creative works, and the logos and brand names that we adopt for the goods and services we sell. There are three major types of intellectual property protection – patents, trademarks and copyrights. Generally speaking, patent protection is available for inventions that are useful, such as a novel product, a new method of doing business, or a new process for making or using something, and may also be available to protect a new and original ornamental design for an article of manufacture; copyright law protects original works of authorship such as books, music, artwork, photographs, web pages and software; and trademark law protects the brand names used for goods or services, logos, as well as distinctive product and packaging designs. Trademark law is part of the law of unfair competition, which also addresses trade secret protection, unfair competition and deceptive and unfair trade practices.

Sometimes an invention or work is eligible for more than one type of protection. Take, for example, a lamp with an elaborately sculpted base that incorporates a novel on-off switch. The creator of this lamp might be able to claim copyright protection in the lamp’s shape as a sculpture, apply for a design patent to protect the ornamental features of the lamp, and apply for a utility patent on the on-off switch invention. Over time, if the public came to associate the lamp’s design with a particular source of lamps, as we have learned to associate the shape of a Coca-Cola® bottle with cola manufactured by the Coca-Cola Company, then the lamp’s shape could be claimed as a trademark. An attorney can help you to determine what types of intellectual property protection are available to you and how best to protect your intellectual property.