Patent, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets laws are legal protections for intellectual property, i.e. creations of the mind. “Intellectual property” refers to intangible assets such as music, writings, inventions, phrases, words, designs, symbols…even sounds and colors can be legally protected. An innovator, or creator, has exclusive rights to his or her intellectual property; thus, others can be excluded from its use; or, use can be licensed.
Intellectual property laws were created to encourage innovation and the commitment of time and resources to the development of new technologies, art and writings.
Have you ever said, “Somebody should invent xyz” or “I should patent that”? What type of patent would you need? There are three types of patents: utility, design, and plant.
Utility patents are the most common, with 90% of all patents being issued for new inventions or improvements on existing inventions. Examples are new LED technology for flat screen televisions, a new medical instrument used for surgery and the microwave oven.
Design patents are granted for new designs, such as designer eyeglasses, the look of Star Wars characters and designer handbags. These products have new designs, not new functions.
Plant patents are granted for newly invented or newly discovered asexually reproduced plants such as a new daisy, maple tree, or carrot.
Pick up any book, magazine, board game instructions, or computer software and you’ll see the familiar copyright icon (©.) Artists, composers, programmers and writers protect their original works with copyrights.
Plays, books, poetry, songs, catalogs, computer software, drawings, sculptures, board games, maps, prints, movies, labels, advertisements and recordings all receive copyright protections.
When you drive to work or the market, you likely see thousands of trademarks. On your next drive, or while you’re watching television, look for distinctive words, symbols, phrases, or designs that identify a service or product.
Examples are Nike’s marketing phrase, “Just Do It;” the NBC chimes; the NBC peacock; Mickey Mouse; the words, “Formica,” “Crock-pot” and “Kleenex; the shape of Coke bottles; and the color pink of Owens Corning insulation.
Have you ever wished that you had the KFC secret recipe? Extra crispy or original? Colonel Sanders' recipe is a trade secret. The recipe for the Coke you wash that extra crispy chicken down with is also a trade secret.
A trade secret is a recipe, formula, process, device, information, technique, design, or composition that provides its owner a business advantage, and is, generally, not known.