Legal View: Intellectual Property Basics

Legal Views

ScalesYou just created the perfect logo for your small business.  Or perhaps you’ve created a brand new product or production method.  Maybe you even wrote some original music.  So what do you do now?  How do you protect your intellectual property from being misappropriated and stolen by other, unscrupulous people?  Do you need a copyright, patent or trademark?  These terms are often confused and misused.  Read on for a clearer understanding of intellectual property basics.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property, commonly referred to as IP, is a legal term that refers to creations of the mind.  This includes original music, literature and other artistic works, discoveries, inventions, phrases, symbols, designs and more.  Anything your brain can imagine has the potential to be your intellectual property.  IP is protected by law through the use of trademarks, copyrights and patents, which allow people to earn recognition and/or financial benefit from what they have invented or created.


A trademark is a sign that is capable of distinguishing the goods and services of one business from those of other businesses.  Examples of trademarks include logos and slogans, company specific designs and phrases, packaging and colours and even non-visible signs, such as sounds or fragrances.  To obtain a trademark, one must simply file an application with the national/regional trademark office and pay the required fees.


A copyright is the legal term used to describe the rights that creators maintain over their original literary, musical and artistic works.  Copyrights can protect a wide range of material, such as books, music, paintings, sculpture, computer programs, maps, advertisements, films, and much more.  No action needs to be taken in order to secure a copyright; once the work is created in its fixed form for the first time, a copyright automatically applies.  It is, however, highly advisable that you register your material with the US Copyright Office.  This creates an official record of your copyright and enables you to sue for the infringement (use without your permission).


A patent is the exclusive right granted for an invention/product or new method of production.  When you obtain a patent, you are the only person who can produce the product/invention or use the method of production.  In order to obtain a patent, technical information about the invention or production method must be disclosed to the public in a patent application. Patents are generally issued for a limited time, usually 20 years from the date of the application.

To learn more about intellectual property, contact an IP lawyer in your area!

[DISCLAIMER: This article does NOT contain legal advice and NO attorney-client relationship arises from reading it.  Always contact an attorney in your jurisdiction to learn about laws applicable to you.]


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