Intellectual property is the protection of ideas, inventions, and creations of the mind. This protection gives creators, authors, artists, and inventors the exclusive right to use the products of their imaginations for a limited period of time. The basic forms of intellectual property (also known as “IP”) are copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret.
Everyone is affected by IP in some fashion. Every time you drink a Coca-Cola, you are using a trademark. Every time you use a new invention, you are using a patent. Kentucky Fried Chicken (itself a trademark) claims trade secret protection for Colonel Sanders’ secret herbs and spices. And copyright impacts our daily lives with books, movies, music, and computer programs.
Intellectual property law in the U.S. is based on the U.S. Constitution, supplemented by statutes, administrative regulations, international treaties, and judicial decisions. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, of the U.S. Constitution reads: “The Congress shall have Power . . . To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” IP is truly the protection of the mind, and the protection of the imagination.
In addition to U.S. law, IP is also protected by international treaties. Many of these treaties are administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations. There are also a number of treaties for copyright, patent, and trademark protection that are outside of the WIPO system.
Computer and Internet law blurs the boundaries between the various types of intellectual property. The material on a Website may be copyrighted, while the domain name may be a trademark. Certainly cybersquatting and trademark law are related, and cybersquatting has been reported quite a bit in the news lately. Some of the web technology may be protected by a patent, and some processes are trade secrets. Nonetheless, each form of intellectual property retains its own twists and turns.
This Website has separate pages for each type of intellectual property (copyright, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents). In addition, there are links to websites where you can find news and articles on intellectual property, as well as MVC's Intellectual Property Policy.
Remember with intellectual property that prudence is the better part of virtue. If at all in doubt, ask for assistance. This will help you to remain within the law and avoid unwanted problems.