As defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) "intellectual property" (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce."
U.S. IP Law protects four broad categories of information:
Legal protections for IP are specific to each category and vary in duration. For example, patents protect useful ideas (devices, methods, etc) even against independent inventions that are substantially the same. This is the strictest degree of protection, but for the most limited amount of time. Copyrights protect creative expression, not ideas. Facts cannot be copyrighted; and even almost-identical expression is not infringing if it is proven to have been created independently. Copyright terms are longer, but they are circumscribed by legal doctrines regarding 'fair use', 'government edicts', and other legislative restrictions. Trademarks protect words, symbols and logos that identify specific items and services offered in commercial contexts. At least in theory, trademarks can last forever, as long as they are 'used in commerce'. But trademarks are limited to the contexts in which they are used — the NBC peacock logo is protected in broadcasting and associated domains, yet other businesses in unrelated areas of commerce may also have peacock logos without infringing NBC's. Trade secrets must be actively protected by the proprietor. Theft of a trade secret may be punished, but if a secret is revealed by the owner, it may no longer be protected.
There are links to guides specifically about copyrights, patents, and trademarks on the sidebar to this guide.
Additional print materials on the subject of Copyrights, Patents & Trademarks can be found by call number under KF 2971-2980 (click on the link to browse the Law Library catalog).
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