Intellectual Property Law

By: LawInfo

Modern businesses of all sizes are constantly in the process of forming new ideas, products and concepts to help maintain and improve their standings in the global marketplace. The field of intellectual property law defines what intellectual property is and establishes legal protections for property owners. When a party allegedly suffers a theft or other misappropriation of intellectual property, an attorney can submit a complaint accusing the defendant and a civil action can begin. Depending on the severity of the alleged act, the government may sometimes pursue criminal charges against a party who misuses intellectual property. The following are the primary forms of subject matter recognized as intellectual property under the law:

  • Copyrights
  • Patents
  • Trademarks
  • Trade secrets


A copyright is a statutory right that the creator of an intellectual property obtains at the point of the work's creation and for a limited period afterward. Copyright protection is typically applied to works of art and media such as books, movies and music. Published and unpublished works are covered under copyrights. They currently persist for the creator's life and 70 years after his or her death in most cases. In order to pursue a copyright infringement lawsuit for civil remedies with an attorney, the owner must have registered his or her copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the alleged act of infringement.


With a patent, the inventor of an intellectual property obtains permission to legally prevent other parties from utilizing the invention as it is described in a document submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This right is granted for 20 years from the point at which the application was initially filed, after which it may no longer be enforced. Obtaining a patent in modern times can be a complex matter with the vast amount of patented ideas and products currently in existence. Documentation requires specific and extensive detailing of the invention with descriptions and a complete history of the property from inception onward. Intellectual property lawyers may be in the best position to appraise patent applicants' ideas and consider whether the applications may be accepted.


A trademark is a protected symbol that clearly identifies an individual company as a brand. It is an essential identifying component for a business. Registration is handled through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If the agency approves the design of the trademark, the registration will remain in effect as long as the owner files specific declaring documents at set intervals following registration.

Trade Secrets

Another type of protected intellectual property is the trade secret. Trade secrets consist of specific technical knowledge that businesses normally guard with a high degree of caution due to the significant market advantages that they provide. In contrast to patents, trade secret protection does not expire after a specific duration; however, it only protects against unauthorized usage and disclosure while patents also protect against use by third parties who independently discover the same item or process.

While it is possible to file for these protections without help, an intellectual property lawyer will generally be able to make the process easier as intellectual property law can be complex to navigate without knowledge and thorough research.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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