You can tell from the title: What is intellectual property law? I’m starting at a really, really basic level. And it’s not just because the goal of this blog is to explain confusing, complex IP law to entrepreneurs. Frankly, it’s because most people, including a lot of lawyers, don’t really know what “IP law” means.
What IP law is not:
IP law is not a fuzzy legal cloud that descends upon all of your ideas, thoughts, writings, plans, dreams, designs, methods, product and business names, drawings, inventions or creations and protects them from copying, use, disclosure or sale by others.
What IP law is:
First, the term “IP” stands for intellectual property, which is really just stuff created by your brain that makes it into the real world in some form and is protected by intellectual property law.
Like this blog post.
Like the great original software program you just coded.
Some ideas, concepts, knowledge, and inventions in and from your brain are sometimes referred to as “intellectual capital,” which may or may not be protected by IP law. You may or may not “own” them like property in a legal sense.
Second, IP law is a general term for dozens of laws that protect very specific types of stuff. Different types of law have very specific and narrow requirements about what gets protected and when. For some types of IP laws, legal protection arises automatically. For example, federal copyright law protection arises when I write this original blog post on my computer. For other types of IP law, you have to do a lot of work to get protection. It’s complicated and expensive to get patent protection for your invention.
IP laws also have different standards about who gets to own the IP in what types of situations. This information can be very, very important to know if you want to protect your key intellectual work and not get sued.
Although there are lots of fuzzy, common laws in many states that protect some forms of intellectual property, there are four main types of IP law that are important to understand if you are starting a business.
1. Trade Secret
What do these types of laws protect?
In the most grossly, simplified terms, these types of IP laws protect the following:
1. Trade Secret law: protected, secret information that confers a competitive advantage
2. Trademark law: brand names, marks, symbols or slogans that identify the source of consumer goods or services
3. Copyright: original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium like paper or a computer program
4. Patent law: new, useful, and non-obvious inventions
In upcoming posts, I will explain the basics of these types of law and how they can make or break a business built on intellectual capital.
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