Intellectual Property (IP) is defined by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as the product of an imagination that can be touched, seen, or felt. The three categories of IP which qualify for a patent are:
Though some intangibles, such as an idea, are considered Intellectual Property, there needs to be a public or commercial use factor involved in order for it to be patented. For instance, in order for Alexander Graham Bell to protect his concepts and design of a communication system such as the telephone, he had to protect his creative idea with a patent even though it was still in an early phase. These patents are also considered Intellectual Property.
Information in a database, business ideas, and components of an experimental drug are other intangibles that are considered IP. Despite that a tangible form exists (such as backup discs of the database, a business plan document, or written notes on an experiment), these things still fall under the category of intangibles.
Intellectual Property is not always owned by its inventor or creator. In large corporations, much of the work is done through individuals who research and develop new technology, but that technology will be owned by the corporation which employs those individuals.
Copyrights provide protection on intangible creations once they are fixed in tangible form. For example, story or lyric ideas must be recorded and the words must be put down on paper. At that point, the creator is the authentic owner of that work and an official copyright is not even even necessary so long as there is an audio or video recording with the date on the file.
Trade secrets differ from patents and copyrights because it only protects against misappropriation or wrongful acquisition of a company’s secrets it has taken appropriate steps to keep confidential.
As music, movies, and social media continue to change and grow, so do the laws for Intellectual Property. If at any time you are unsure about the current state of IP law, seek out legal resources and publications. Remember, just because it is on the Internet doesn’t mean that it is free to use on a blog, in the classroom, or on your promotional items.
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