By Tennell Lockett
What is Intellectual Property? I find myself being asked this question all the time. I am amazed that, in 2010, there are still so many people from all walks of life — lay people, professionals, CEOs, etc. — that still have no grasp of IP. My father has known that I am an IP lawyer for nearly 10 years and I still catch him on the telling people that I can help with their real estate issues. It’s classic.
Although many do not know exactly what IP is, virtually everyone talks about IP, uses IP, wants to leverage IP, but have no context or concept of how to make it work for them. I once overheard a lady in a Kroger grocery store saying she had a great T-shirt logo that she intended to patent. I chuckled. Sitting down to write this blog I thought, maybe it is time to stop chuckling and try to inform. Maybe it will help the lady in Kroger, maybe not. At the least, it will be a good reference point for my father, concerning what I do.
What Is IP and What Does It Protect?
In plain English, Intellectual Property is any protectable, non-tangible property that you create. One way to think of it is to consider the product you would have if you could pour the valuable contents of your mind into a box, package it and sell it. IP includes expressions of creativity, ideas and inventions, processes and identifiers of source, among other things.
IP law breaks these non-tangible property rights into a number of different areas:
Copyrights cover original works of authorship that are “fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” In other words, you would take your original mental concept and reduce it to tangible means. Paintings, literary works, photographs, even recipes can all receive copyright protection.
Trademarks and Service Marks are logos, symbols, words or other identifiers that designate to the public that a product or service comes from a particular source. Nike’s Swoosh is a popular example.
Patents are used to protect ideas. For an idea to be patentable, it must be novel (e.g., something that has not already been invented) and non-obvious (e.g., it cannot be an obvious modification of previously known technology). Examples of patented inventions are everywhere, from simple devices to complex technologies.
Trade Secrets, as the name suggests,cover information or things that have value in an industry by virtue of its secrecy. Coke’s soft drink formula is a good example. There are other niche areas, but those are the major areas.
How Do I Use It?
IP owners typically use IP to achieve one of two basic objectives: to create an exclusive field in which they can commercially operate; or to charge others to operate in their protected field. If you want to create an exclusive field, you do so through IP enforcement (ranging from delivering demand letters to full-blown litigation). If you want others to “pay to play,” you typically attempt to license or, if the price is right, to sell your IP. A qualified IP attorney can assist you with your process from start to finish.
It is the tip of the iceberg, but in a nutshell, that is IP.