Intellectual Property Law: Everything You Need to Know (2022)

Intellectual property law (IP) protects the rights of any person or business who creates artistic work. 8 min read

1. What Is Intellectual Property Law?
2. Types of Intellectual Property Law
3. Protecting Against Infringement
4. International Protection of Intellectual Property Law
5. What Do Intellectual Property Lawyers Do?
6. Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual property law (IP) protects the rights of any person or business who creates artistic work. Artistic work can include music, literature, plays, discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Intellectual property law aims to encourage new technologies, artistic expression, and inventions that all promote economic growth.

Types of Intellectual Property Law

Just like the legal system protects people's physical property rights, it aims to protect people's mental labor, which we call intellectual property. There are several different types of intellectual property.


Copyrights protect any type of expressive art, such as writings, music, motion pictures, architecture, and other original intellectual and artistic expressions. A copyright gives the owner exclusive rights to reproduce their own work, publicly display it, perform it, and create derivatives of that work.

Theories or ideas are not protected unless they are captured in a fixed medium. The act of creation produces a copyright. This means that even unpublished works are protected by copyright laws. The use of a copyright symbol and the date is common, but it is not required to show that you own the copyright.

Owners of copyrights are also given economic rights to financially benefit from the creation of their work. The law prohibits other people from these economic gains unless they have been given permission from the copyright owner. There are a few exceptions to copyright exclusivity in cases of "fair use" such as for a book review.

Current law protects works whether or not a copyright notice is attached or if it has been registered. The federal agency charged with enforcing this act is the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

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Most copyrights are valid for the creator's lifetime, plus 70 years.


Patents protect the owner's invention from being made, sold, or used by anyone else for a certain amount of time. Patents give inventors the right to sell their product or to make a profit from it by transferring that right to another person or business.

Depending on the type of patent that you apply for, your rights are valid for up to 20 years. Be aware that patent protection will be denied if your invention is deemed to be to be obvious in design, not useful, or morally offensive.

There are three different types of patents that you can get in the U.S.

  • Utility Patents: Utility patents protect inventions that have a specific function. This covers things like chemicals, machines, and technology.
  • Design Patents: These types of patents protect the way an object or product appears once it has been made, literally its design. These types of patents include industrial designs.
  • Plant Patents: Plant patents protect plant types that are asexually reproduced. This includes hybrids.

Inventors do not automatically get a patent once they invent something new. They must apply for and receive approval on their patent to be protected under intellectual property law.

If you have never applied for a patent before, it is recommended that you hire a patent attorney to assist you through the complex and time-consuming process of applying for one.


Trademarks help to protect the names, marks, and slogans of products and companies. Trademarks make it easy for customers to distinguish competitors from one another, help to avoid any confusion, and deter misleading advertising. Trademarks are automatically assumed. As soon as a business starts using a mark or brand name, you can follow up that symbol with TM without having to file it with the government.

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Unlike copyrighted works, trademarks receive different degrees of protection depending on consumer awareness of the trademark, the type of service and product it identifies, and the geographic area where the trademark is used.

Rights can potentially last forever and while not required, trademark owners can register their marks for additional protection.

Geographical Indications

Geographical indications are signs or images used on products that come from a specific geographic location. Often, people do this when that location has certain qualities, a reputation, or characteristics that make that place of origin special.

It is important tonote that copyrights, patents, and trademarks, are the basis on which intellectual property is protected by law; therefore, it is very important that a certain degree of skill is used when drafting the documents required to obtain these protections. If you do not have this degree of skill, you should hire an intellectual property lawyer who has specific experience in your field or industry.

Right of Publicity

The image and name of a person are protected by different state laws known as the right of publicity. These laws protect people against the unauthorized use of their name or image for commercial purposes. For example, a company cannot use a picture of you on a box of cereal unless you give them permission or are compensated for the use of it. The extent of your protection varies from state to state.

Trade Secrets

Trade secret laws can be found at both the state and federal levels. They protect sensitive business information like a marketing plan for the introduction of a new software or a secret recipe for a brand of soda. The extent of trade secret protection depends on whether or not the information gives your business an advantage over your competitors. It must also be a secret among most of your staff and not be known by any of your competitors.

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Right of Privacy

Although not technically part of intellectual property law, state privacy laws are there to protect the rights of all people to be left alone. Invasion of privacy happens when a person publishes or exploits someone else's private information on a public forum. Invasion of privacy laws protect people from intruding on, exposing private information about, or falsely portraying another person.

Protecting Against Infringement

Intellectual property law infringement is when someone uses a person or company's intellectual property without authorization.

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution grants Congress express authority to give authors and inventors exclusive rights to all of their creations. Section 8 also gives Congress the power to provide further support both interstate and in foreign commerce.Congress's power to regulate trademarks is grounded in theCommerce Clauseof the Constitution.

Intellectual property laws passed by Congress are overseen by two government agencies: the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Copyright Office.TheU.S. Patent and Trademark Officeis responsible for issuing and monitoring all federally registered patents and trademarks. Copyrights must be registered with theU.S. Copyright Officeto be enforceable at the federal level.

To protect yourself against infringement, you should take all of the steps you can to let the world know that your rights exist. By making your rights public, you deter people who might accidentally infringe on your rights, and you put yourself in a better position to prosecute an infringement in court if necessary.

How to Give Notice of Your Intellectual Property Rights

Inventors can give notice of their rights in the following ways:

  • They can mark their product with the patent number that is assigned to them by the Patent and Trademark Office.
  • If they have not received their patent yet they can use the label "patent pending" to discourage people from copying the design before they receive the actual patent.
  • Notice of trademarks and copyrights can be shown by placing the appropriate symbol such as ™ or © on the products ormaterials.

If infringement does happen, you can enforce your intellectual property rights in federal court. Before filing a lawsuit, you should consult with an intellectual property law attorney and carefully consider whether litigation is your best option. Infringement cases are expensive, and there is a risk that your intellectual property rights, once held up to the scrutiny of a judge, will be shown to be invalid or less extensive than you may have thought.

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If you do decide to go to court over an intellectual property infringement and your suit is successful, there are a number of remedies available to you.

  • The court can order an injunction. This means that the person infringing on your IP must stop what they are doing.
  • You may be able to receive monetary damages if you can prove that you have lost business because of their actions.
  • Once your rights are established in court, you may be able to agree to a license agreement with your IP. This means the infringing party can continue to use your IP and you will receive a payment from them in return.

International Protection of Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property protection at an international level became an important issue during trade and tariff negotiations in the 19th century. One of the first international treaties relating to intellectual property was the International Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, also known as the Paris Convention. The treaty, written in 1883, provided protection for patents, industrial models and designs, trademarks, and trade names. The treaty has been signed by over 100 countries and has been modified several times over the years to keep up with changing intellectual property law.

  • The Right of National Treatment: This area of the treaty ensures that those seeking a patent or trademark in a foreign country will not be discriminated against just because they are from a different country. They will receive the same rights as a citizen of that country.
  • The Right of Priority:This provision in the treaty gives an inventor one year from the date of filing a patent application in his or her own country (six months for a trademark or design application) to file an application in a foreign country. The legal, effective date of application in the foreign country then becomes the effective filing date in the inventor's home country so long as the application is made within the protection period. If the invention becomes public before the inventor can file the home country application, the inventor loses the right of priority in a foreign country.

While these rules are in place, enforcement and protection of IP at an international level is still extremely complex. Laws vary greatly from country to country, and the political climate within each country, which changes frequently, influences the extent of protection available.

Many U.S. and international IP laws changed significantly after the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was passed in 1994. The countries that signed the GATT committed themselves to a higher degree of intellectual property protection. With guidancefrom the World Trade Organization (WTO), member nations were required to adopt specific provisions in order to enforce the rights and settlement of disputes relating to intellectual property. It created international criminal penalties for anyone found abusing trademarks and copyrights through counterfeiting or piracy.

What Do Intellectual Property Lawyers Do?

There are three segments of intellectual property that lawyers can focus on: counseling, protecting, and enforcing.

  • Counseling:Client counseling revolves around how best to protect the intellectual property of a specific client. This can include conducting searches on trademarks proposed by clients and counseling them on the availability of those marks. To counsel a client on patents, a lawyer must have a technical background to properly understand the client's patent and assess its validity and likelihood of receiving a patent.
  • Protecting: Protecting a client's intellectual property involves registering their trademarks, patents, or copyrights to obtain the greatest rights available. For trademarks and patents, this means preparing and filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and responding to actions issued by the USPTO.
  • Enforcing: The enforcement of intellectual property involves protecting the client's IP against infringing uses. This can sometimes lead to litigation in federal court.

Other roles of an intellectual property lawyer may include licensing, due diligence for mergers or acquisitions, and developing strategies to protect their IP both internationally and domestically.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I learn more about intellectual property law?

If you want to learn more about intellectual property law, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a great place to start. The organization's website is a forum for global intellectual property services, policies, andinformation. They also run online workshops, seminars, and training courses where you can learn more about a specific piece of intellectual property or laws in a certain country of interest.

If you need help with intellectual property law, you can post your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.


What do I need to know about intellectual property? ›

Intellectual property (IP) is anything that is a creation of the mind used in business. It can include inventions, brands, artistic creations, domain names, website content, proprietary information and software. IP represents valuable intangible property with monetary value.

What are the 7 intellectual property rights? ›

Intellectual property rights include patents, copyright, industrial design rights, trademarks, plant variety rights, trade dress, geographical indications, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets.

What are the 4 types of intellectual property? ›

Patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets are valuable assets of the company and understanding how they work and how they are created is critical to knowing how to protect them.

What are the 5 types of intellectual property? ›

Intellectual property can take many forms, and each form is protected differently. In this post, we will explain the basics of the most common types of intellectual property — copyrights, moral rights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.

How does IP law work? ›

IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyrights and trademarks, geographical indications, utility model, trade secret which allow people to earn recognition or financial absolute benefit from what they have invented or created.

What are the 3 ways of protecting intellectual property? ›

Copyright, trademark, and patent are three of the most common types of IP protection. These grant you the exclusive rights to your creations, especially when it comes to the commercial gains of its use.

What violates intellectual property? ›

Common examples of Intellectual property violations

Putting your logo on a defendant's product in order to boost sales. Copying and passing off your writing or artwork as their own. Intellectual Property infringements on social media where fraudulent profiles use trademarks or copyrighted material to represent a brand.

What is the most common violation of intellectual property? ›

The most common type of intellectual property dispute is that of infringement. This is where intellectual property is used or appropriated without the owner's permission by another. Infringement can apply to many categories of intellectual property.

What are the 2 categories of intellectual property? ›

Intellectual property has two categories: industrial property and copyright and neighboring rights. Industrial property includes patents, trademarks and other marks, geographic indications, utility models, industrial designs, topographies of integrated circuits and trade secrets.

Is IP the same as copyright? ›

Copyright, patents, designs and trade marks are all types of intellectual property protection.

What is class 7 intellectual property? ›

What is Meant by Intellectual Property Rights? Intellectual Property rights mean providing property rights through patents, copyrights and trademarks. Holders of intellectual property rights have a monopoly on the usage of property or items for a specified time period.

Who owns intellectual property? ›

Generally speaking, the creator or originator of an idea, work, or novel invention is presumed to own the copyright to their creations. However, if the work was created as a part of a work-made-for-hire agreement, or in an employer-employee agreement, the copyright belongs to the employer.

What is the most common form of intellectual property? ›

The three most common types of intellectual property are patents, trademarks and copyrights, and they each provide different and varying levels of protection.
  • Patents. ...
  • Trademarks. ...
  • Copyrights.
16 Jul 2021

How long does copyright last? ›

As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.

Is IP law well paid? ›

Smaller shops can pay between INR 25,000 - 40,000. Partners with 10 years of experience can earn between INR 50 lakhs -1 crore or more. Of course, those who manage to set up their own law firms or even independent law practices and are able to attract clients independently grow fastest.

Is IP law stressful? ›

The Career

It is by no means an individual effort and takes a group of legal experts and technical specialists to succeed. Stress may come in the form of long working hours, demanding clients, and tight deadlines, but that is true for any law firm.

Is IP law complicated? ›

The law relating to IP is complex, and good legal advice is an essential starting point for any business looking to manage its IP effectively.

What Cannot be protected as intellectual property? ›

Ideas, Methods, or Systems

Scientific or technical methods or discoveries; Business operations or procedures. Mathematical principles. Formulas, algorithms.

What are the 3 types of IP? ›

There are three primary types of Intellectual Property: copyrights, trademarks, and patents. A copyright is a legal term that is used to describe a person's ownership rights to an original expression of creativity.

How can I legally protect my idea? ›

File Copyright Application- Copyright Application can be filed with the respective Copyright Office or you can accomplish Copyright Registration with the help of LegalRaasta. Copyright Certified- Copyright certification will take 10 months and they will be valid for a time period of 60 years.

Can you sue for intellectual property without copyright? ›

Lack of ownership rights: If the person who is accusing another of intellectual property theft didn't have ownership rights over the intellectual property, then they cannot sue for infringement. This would also apply if the material could not be protected under intellectual property laws.

Does my company own my ideas? ›

Typically, employers are entitled to all intellectual property created at/for their business, unless there exists a contract stating otherwise.

What is a poor man's patent? ›

A poor man's patent is essentially writing out a description of your invention and then mailing that written description to yourself. This postmarked envelope supposedly acts to create the date of your invention as the date this written description was postmarked.

What is the strongest form of protection for intellectual property? ›

A patent gives the inventor the exclusive right to prevent others from making, using or selling a similar product for a fixed period of time — 20 years in most countries.

Can someone steal your intellectual property? ›

Intellectual property theft is one someone steals an idea, creative expression, or invention from an individual or a company. IP theft can refer to someone stealing patents, copyrights, trademarks, or trade secrets. This includes names, logos, symbols, inventions, client lists, and more.

How do I protect my IP? ›

The best way to protect IP is to register it with the government and enforce your ownership rights. Beyond registration and enforcement, you can protect certain types of intellectual property by: Documenting your discoveries. Using digital rights management.

What is another word for intellectual property? ›

synonyms for intellectual property
  • IP.
  • copyright.
  • patent.
  • trade secret.
  • trademark.

What is the difference between a copyright and a patent? ›

A copyright protects original works, such as art, literature, or other created work. A trademark protects names, short slogans, or logos. A patent protects new inventions, processes, and compositions of matter (such as medicines).

Is a logo considered IP? ›

Brand names and logos are IP assets (trademarks) worth protecting. Registering your trademark gives you 15 years of exclusive rights to use it, and you can renew it indefinitely, as long as you are still using the trademark.

Does IP have to be patented? ›

The short answer is no. Unfortunately, despite what you may have heard from late night television commercials, there is no effective way to protect an idea with any form of intellectual property protection. Copyrights protect expression and creativity, not innovation. Patents protect inventions.

What is the difference between IP and trademark? ›

What is the difference between patents and trademarks? Put simply, patents are designed to protect the commercial use of inventors' creations from others. Trademarks, on the other hand, are designed to protect the names, products, services and/or logos that are used to identify and distinguish goods and services.

What is a Class 8 trademark? ›

Trademark Class 8 pertains to hand tools and implements (hand-operated); cutlery; side arms; razors. The following goods are also classified under Class 8: Cutlery of precious metals; Electric razors and clippers (hand instruments).

What is trademark class 11? ›

Trademark Class 11 pertains to apparatus for lighting, heating, steam generating, cooking, refrigerating, drying, ventilating, water supply and sanitary purposes.

Why is IPR needed? ›

IPR is essential for better identification, planning, commercialization, rendering, and thus the preservation of inventions or creativity. Each industry should develop its speciality based on its IPR policies, management style, strategies, and so on.

Do I own my IP? ›

Who Owns IP? Normally, the person who thought up an idea or concept that's the subject of IP is the owner. However, it's possible to release or transfer IP rights through the following means: Transaction.

Who protects intellectual property? ›

To obtain a patent in the U.S., the inventor must file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which includes (1) a written document comprising a description and claims, (2) drawings when necessary, (3) an oath or declaration, and (4) filing, search, and examination fees.

Who monitors intellectual property? ›

Intellectual property laws passed by Congress are overseen by two government agencies: the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Copyright Office. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is responsible for issuing and monitoring all federally registered patents and trademarks.

What things Cannot be patented? ›

What can't be patented?
  • literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works.
  • a way of doing business, playing a game or thinking.
  • a method of medical treatment or diagnosis.
  • a discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method.
  • the way information is presented.
  • some computer programs or mobile apps.
17 Dec 2018

What are 3 items that can be patented? ›

Machines, medicines, computer programs, articles made by machines, compositions, chemicals, biogenetic materials, and processes, can all be the subject matter for a United States patent.

How much does a 20 year patent cost? ›

A utility patent cost ranges from $5,000 to over $15,000, including lawyer fees. If properly maintained, it lasts for 20 years. The breakdown of utility patent costs include: USPTO Filing Fees: $75 to $700.

What is a good example of intellectual property? ›

Utility patents: for tangible inventions, such as products, machines, devices, and composite materials, as well as new and useful processes. Design patents: the ornamental designs on manufactured products. Plant patents: new varieties of plants.

What is the easiest form of protection for intellectual property? ›

Patent. A patent is used to prevent an invention from being created, sold, or used by another party without permission. Patents are the most common type of intellectual property rights that come to people's minds when they think of intellectual property rights protection.

What is not protected by copyright? ›

Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.

Is Winnie the Pooh still copyrighted? ›

Winnie the Pooh is in the public domain

The characters of A. A. Milne's 1926 classic Winnie the Pooh are free to use legally without repercussion. US copyright law means that works of authors are avalable to use either 70 years after the author's death or 95 years after publication.

Who owns a copyright? ›

Copyrights are generally owned by the people who create the works of expression, with some important exceptions: If a work is created by an employee in the course of his or her employment, the employer owns the copyright.

› ... › Intellectual property ›

However, a trademark may protect words, designs, and other elements that are not considered copyrightable. Like copyrights, trademarks may be protected under co...
Terms: · Intellectual Property: Ownership interest by an individual or entity in creations of the human mind that may be protected under the law. &middot...
Intellectual property refers to any intellectual creation, such as literary works, artistic works, inventions, designs, symbols, names, images, computer code, e...

Why do we need to know the intellectual property? ›

Whether you're a start-up or a family business that's been trading for generations, recognising and protecting your intellectual property (IP) is critical to growth, protecting what's yours and maintaining a good reputation. IP is about protecting the time, money and effort you put into your business.

Why is it important to know intellectual property? ›

Why is IPR Important? Intellectual property protection is critical to fostering innovation. Without protection of ideas, businesses and individuals would not reap the full benefits of their inventions and would focus less on research and development.

Why is it important to know about intellectual property law? ›

Your IP rights are important because they can: set your business apart from competitors. be sold or licensed, providing an important revenue stream. offer customers something new and different.

What is the most important type of intellectual property? ›

1. Patents. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants property rights to original inventions, from processes to machines. Patent law protects inventions from use by others and gives exclusive rights to one or more inventors.

What is the most common form of violation of intellectual property? ›

The most common type of intellectual property dispute is that of infringement. This is where intellectual property is used or appropriated without the owner's permission by another. Infringement can apply to many categories of intellectual property.

Who owns intellectual property? ›

Generally speaking, the creator or originator of an idea, work, or novel invention is presumed to own the copyright to their creations. However, if the work was created as a part of a work-made-for-hire agreement, or in an employer-employee agreement, the copyright belongs to the employer.

How long does intellectual property last? ›

Copyrights generally only remain in effect for 70 years following an author's death. The copyright on any “made for hire” works, including those owned by small businesses, remain in effect for 120 years post-creation or 95 years post-publication. Whichever date comes first is the one that prevails.

What is the best guide to intellectual property? ›

A Beginner's Guide to Intellectual Property Rights
  • Identify what IP rights may exist.
  • Subsistence of IP rights.
  • (i) Trade Marks.
  • (ii) Patents.
  • (iii) Registered Designs.
  • (iv) Copyright.
  • The process of IP protection.
  • Protecting copyright and unregistered designs.

How do I protect my intellectual property? ›

The best way to protect IP is to register it with the government and enforce your ownership rights. Beyond registration and enforcement, you can protect certain types of intellectual property by: Documenting your discoveries. Using digital rights management.

Who benefits from intellectual property? ›

Intellectual Property (IP) Protection is fundamental for innovation to thrive. It rewards creativity and can generate tangible benefits to businesses, employees and society.

Is property law a good career? ›

Property law is a thriving area of practice, especially during periods of economic boom. The value of land, as an immovable asset, has always been high throughout history and there will always be a market to buy, lease, sell, or develop it.

Do intellectual property lawyers go to court? ›

IP lawyers play a variety of critical roles related to the protection of intellectual property. In some capacities they act as advocates representing clients in court proceedings. They also serve as advisors, counseling clients about intellectual property matters.

What is the strongest form of protection for intellectual property? ›

A patent gives the inventor the exclusive right to prevent others from making, using or selling a similar product for a fixed period of time — 20 years in most countries.

What is the difference between intellectual property and copyright? ›

The terms “copyright” and “intellectual property” are often used interchangeably. However, copyright is just a part of the scope of intellectual property, as are trade marks, patents, and designs. Intellectual property (IP) describes a form of property which is the intangible output of the human creative mind.

What is the largest intellectual property in the world? ›

Traditionally, the United States has been the powerhouse of intellectual property. The national patent office of the United States has the most patents in force worldwide, with more than 3.3 million patents in 2020.


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