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What is Intellectual Property Law?

Definition of Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property law gives artists, inventors, and other creators a monetary reason to work. Copyrights and patents allow artists and inventors to stop anyone else from selling their creations. The creators can, therefore, market their works without direct competition from anyone else.

Two other categories of intellectual property include trademarks and trade secrets. Trademarks are symbols of vendors, such as logos, that allows consumers to easily distinguish one vendor from another. One of the most recognizable trademarks is the Nike "swoosh," which now adorns sneakers, shirts, and all manner of sports apparel. Consumers know that anything with the Nike "swoosh" is manufactured by Nike according to Nike's standards. Trade secrets involve a manufacturing process that is kept a secret from the rest of the world. Manufacturers work to keep their processes secure so that no one else can duplicate it.

Terms to Know

  • License: A contract granting permission for another person to use your copyright, trademark, or patent.
  • Work For Hire: A creation that an artist made while working for someone else; works for hire are typically owned by the artist's employer.
  • Service mark: A unique brand name or logo that identifies a service, not a product.
  • Trade dress: Distinctive packaging used to market a product instead of a trademark or service mark.
  • Patent Agent: A lawyer that specializes in getting patent protection for inventions.
  • Prior Art: The state of the industry before a specific invention. New inventions must be new and different from all prior art.
  • Nondisclosure Agreement: A contract which prohibits one party from disclosing trade secrets to anyone else.

Related Practice Areas

  • Entertainment, Sports, & Leisure Law: Nearly every artist, actor, or filmmaker must copyright their work or negotiate licensing or work for hire contracts.
  • Corporate and Business Law: Many intellectual property owners are corporations or businesses that own rights to their employees' works.
  • Cyberlaw: The Internet's unprecedented ability to copy and distribute work raised new challenges to existing intellectual property law.
  • First Amendment Law: The free flow of information and ideas is sometimes impeded by copyrights and patents.

Use the search tools below to find a qualified intellectual property lawyer near you or learn about state-specific laws on our intellectual property legal answers page.

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