Intellectual Property law deals with laws to protect and enforce rights of the creators and owners of inventions, writing, music, designs and other works, known as the "intellectual property." There are several areas of intellectual property including copyright, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.
Copyright law protects the rights of creators in their works in fine arts, publishing, entertainment, and computer software. The laws protect the owner of the work if others copy, present, or display the owners work without permission.
Trademark law protects a word, phrase, symbol or design that is used by an entity to identify its product or service. Examples are Dunkin Donuts orange and pink sausage style lettering, Apple’s apple logo, and Adidas’ three stripes. Trademark owners can prevent others from using their marks, or marks which are confusingly similar so that consumers would not be able to identify the source. Federal and state laws govern trademarks but the Lanham Act is the primary source of trademark protection. These laws protect against infringement and dilution. Rights in trademarks are gained by being the first to use a trademark in commerce or being the first to register the mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Patent law grants protection for new inventions which can be products, processes or designs and provides a mechanism for protection of the invention. The patent law promotes the sharing of new developments with others to foster innovation. The patent owner has the right to protect others from producing, using, distributing or importing the protected item. Essentially the patent is a property right that can be licensed, sold, mortgaged or assigned.
Trade secrets are business practices, formulas, designs or processes used in a business, designed specifically to provide a competitive advantage to a business. These trade secrets would not be otherwise known to an “outsider” of the business. An example of this is the formula for Coca Cola. Trade secrets are protected without registration and appropriate steps should be taken by the owner to maintain confidentiality.