Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property is that which you can own even though it has no direct, physical embodiment. (If it was land, it would be ‘real property’, while if it were cash, stocks, or other ‘things’ it would be ‘personal property’). Intellectual Property is always described, usually by some form of writing, and will be one or more of the following classes: a Patent; a Trade- or Service- Mark; a Copyright; or a Trade Secret. The reason I say ‘or more’, is that some (but not all) Intellectual Property can be both the subject of a patent and a copyright, or a trademark and a copyright.

Each of the first three (patent, trade/service mark, copyright) exist because the legislature created laws that define the process and boundaries, ultimately, for those particular types of intellectual property; while ‘trade secret’, though now the subject of specific statutes in most states, was originally created by judicial decisions about what was sensible and fair as written on

A Patent?

‘Patent’ is shorthand for ‘Letters Patent’, which means a governmental grant of a limited monopoly for an invented idea. A U.S. patent must be examined by the U.S. Patent (and Trademark) Office, which at least claims to consider whether an individual’s invention is useful, new, and not obvious. You can also patent a design that it is new, or a plant that it was created, not discovered. A patent lasts for 20 years from the date of its initial application and lets the owner prevent anyone else from commercially making, selling, or using the invention in the U.S..

In the U.S., only individuals can be inventors, even though corporations can own patents. Patents are also the subject of international treaties. Two key things to remember about the rest of the world’s view of patents: you must file your patent application before you disclose or sell your invention, and the first to file wins the race. For more information read