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What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual Property, or IP, is the group of intangible assets consisting of knowledge and ideas. It is the property people create or invent. Intellectual property can be in many forms such as an invention, journal article, software program, book, formula, process, or sound recording. Generally, four very different kinds of rights are included: patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. These four main IP rights are often confused but are quite distinct. Patents and trade secrets protect the substance of ideas while copyrights and trademarks protect the form in which ideas are fixed.

  • Patents – the right to exclude others from making, using, offering to sell, selling an invention in the United States or importing the invention into the United States. Patents are regulated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Copyrights – the right to prevent others from copying the form of the creation. It is the expression of the idea that is protected. Copyrights are regulated by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.
  • Trademarks (or Servicemarks) – any work, name, symbol, or device, adopted and used by a merchant or service provider to identify his goods or services and distinguish them from those of others. Trademarks and servicemarks are regulated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Trade secrets – a secret formula, pattern, device, or compilation of information known only to certain persons who use it to give them a competitive business advantage. Trade secrets are primarily regulated by state laws. There is no process or procedure such as patenting or registration. Trade secrets are maintained by non-disclosure; the information must be kept confidential. Trade secrets are secret.

General information can be found at the following: