Technology has always had an effect on intellectual property law but with the advent of the internet, the pace at which it changes now seems ever increasing.

What is Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual property law is the area of law that protects a party’s rights to its own creative work and inventions. It determines who gets to use new creations, products, artistic work, and design, as well as who, if anyone, has the right to monetary compensation for its use. The purpose of intellectual property law is to allow people who create and invent things to profit from their work.

Intellectual property can be creative or scientific work (or a combination of the two). The rules for being able to claim exclusive rights to intellectual property differ depending on the type of intellectual property. Some of the more common areas of intellectual property law include:

  • Copyright Works covered by copyright include choreography, movies, music, print, performances, visual arts and recorded works. If you have a copyright on one of these (or on other copyrighted works) other people are not supposed to reproduce your work for their own profit without your permission. Because of international copyright agreements, you do not have to formally register a copyright to have one but it gives you rights if you do.
  • Industrial Design Rights Industrial designs are the designs to make products as opposed to the production of the product itself. Industrial design rights are to protect the rights of creators of industrial design to use and profit from their creations. International industrial design rights are addressed in the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Deposit of Industrial Designs.
  • Patents Patents grant the legal rights to original inventions for a certain amount of time. During the patent’s term, no one else can make the product, sell it or distribute it without permission from the patent holder. A patent in the United States lasts for 20 years.
  • Plant Variety Rights When a horticulturist or hobby gardener creates a new plant, they have exclusive rights to the plant and the plant materials. If someone holds the rights to a new plant, they can choose to grow the plant themselves or sell licenses to others to grow and use the plant.
  • Trade Secrets A trade secret is a secret formula, device, plan, system or technique used for doing business to give them advantage over their competitors. Many companies have products that are protected as a trade secret even though they do not have a patent on it. If a competitor gets a trade secret in an unlawful way, the company that has the rights to it can bring action against them for a trade secret violation.
  • Trademarks A trademark is an identifying design, symbol, lettering or words that represent a company or product and distinguishes it from other similar companies and products. A trademark does not have to be registered but doing so provides the owner of the trademark legal ownership over it forever. An owner of a trademark has the exclusive rights to make and sell products that use it.

When people feel like their intellectual property rights are being infringed upon, it is important that they get legal advice from a lawyer who is licensed to practice intellectual property law in the jurisdiction that governs their particular issue, or from another type of legal professional that is qualified to give advice in this area. Although there are laws to protect peoples’ intellectual property rights, unfortunately, people sometimes have to actively try to enforce that these laws do not get broken.