Intellectual Property Law: Everything You Need to Know (2023)

Intellectual property law (IP) protects the rights of any person or business who creates artistic work. 8 min read

What Is Intellectual Property Law?

Intellectual property law (IP) protects the rights of any person or business who creates artistic work. Artistic work can include music, literature, plays, discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Intellectual property law aims to encourage new technologies, artistic expression, and inventions that all promote economic growth.

Types of Intellectual Property Law

Just like the legal system protects people's physical property rights, it aims to protect people's mental labor, which we call intellectual property. There are several different types of intellectual property.


Copyrights protect any type of expressive art, such as writings, music, motion pictures, architecture, and other original intellectual and artistic expressions. A copyright gives the owner exclusive rights to reproduce their own work, publicly display it, perform it, and create derivatives of that work.

Theories or ideas are not protected unless they are captured in a fixed medium. The act of creation produces a copyright. This means that even unpublished works are protected by copyright laws. The use of a copyright symbol and the date is common, but it is not required to show that you own the copyright.

Owners of copyrights are also given economic rights to financially benefit from the creation of their work. The law prohibits other people from these economic gains unless they have been given permission from the copyright owner. There are a few exceptions to copyright exclusivity in cases of "fair use" such as for a book review.

Current law protects works whether or not a copyright notice is attached or if it has been registered. The federal agency charged with enforcing this act is the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

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Most copyrights are valid for the creator's lifetime, plus 70 years.


Patents protect the owner's invention from being made, sold, or used by anyone else for a certain amount of time. Patents give inventors the right to sell their product or to make a profit from it by transferring that right to another person or business.

Depending on the type of patent that you apply for, your rights are valid for up to 20 years. Be aware that patent protection will be denied if your invention is deemed to be to be obvious in design, not useful, or morally offensive.

There are three different types of patents that you can get in the U.S.

  • Utility Patents: Utility patents protect inventions that have a specific function. This covers things like chemicals, machines, and technology.
  • Design Patents: These types of patents protect the way an object or product appears once it has been made, literally its design. These types of patents include industrial designs.
  • Plant Patents: Plant patents protect plant types that are asexually reproduced. This includes hybrids.

Inventors do not automatically get a patent once they invent something new. They must apply for and receive approval on their patent to be protected under intellectual property law.

If you have never applied for a patent before, it is recommended that you hire a patent attorney to assist you through the complex and time-consuming process of applying for one.


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Trademarks help to protect the names, marks, and slogans of products and companies. Trademarks make it easy for customers to distinguish competitors from one another, help to avoid any confusion, and deter misleading advertising. Trademarks are automatically assumed. As soon as a business starts using a mark or brand name, you can follow up that symbol with TM without having to file it with the government.

Unlike copyrighted works, trademarks receive different degrees of protection depending on consumer awareness of the trademark, the type of service and product it identifies, and the geographic area where the trademark is used.

Rights can potentially last forever and while not required, trademark owners can register their marks for additional protection.

Geographical Indications

Geographical indications are signs or images used on products that come from a specific geographic location. Often, people do this when that location has certain qualities, a reputation, or characteristics that make that place of origin special.

It is important tonote that copyrights, patents, and trademarks, are the basis on which intellectual property is protected by law; therefore, it is very important that a certain degree of skill is used when drafting the documents required to obtain these protections. If you do not have this degree of skill, you should hire an intellectual property lawyer who has specific experience in your field or industry.

Right of Publicity

The image and name of a person are protected by different state laws known as the right of publicity. These laws protect people against the unauthorized use of their name or image for commercial purposes. For example, a company cannot use a picture of you on a box of cereal unless you give them permission or are compensated for the use of it. The extent of your protection varies from state to state.

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Trade Secrets

Trade secret laws can be found at both the state and federal levels. They protect sensitive business information like a marketing plan for the introduction of a new software or a secret recipe for a brand of soda. The extent of trade secret protection depends on whether or not the information gives your business an advantage over your competitors. It must also be a secret among most of your staff and not be known by any of your competitors.

Right of Privacy

Although not technically part of intellectual property law, state privacy laws are there to protect the rights of all people to be left alone. Invasion of privacy happens when a person publishes or exploits someone else's private information on a public forum. Invasion of privacy laws protect people from intruding on, exposing private information about, or falsely portraying another person.

Protecting Against Infringement

Intellectual property law infringement is when someone uses a person or company's intellectual property without authorization.

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution grants Congress express authority to give authors and inventors exclusive rights to all of their creations. Section 8 also gives Congress the power to provide further support both interstate and in foreign commerce.Congress's power to regulate trademarks is grounded in theCommerce Clauseof the Constitution.

Intellectual property laws passed by Congress are overseen by two government agencies: the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Copyright Office.TheU.S. Patent and Trademark Officeis responsible for issuing and monitoring all federally registered patents and trademarks. Copyrights must be registered with theU.S. Copyright Officeto be enforceable at the federal level.

To protect yourself against infringement, you should take all of the steps you can to let the world know that your rights exist. By making your rights public, you deter people who might accidentally infringe on your rights, and you put yourself in a better position to prosecute an infringement in court if necessary.

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How to Give Notice of Your Intellectual Property Rights

Inventors can give notice of their rights in the following ways:

  • They can mark their product with the patent number that is assigned to them by the Patent and Trademark Office.
  • If they have not received their patent yet they can use the label "patent pending" to discourage people from copying the design before they receive the actual patent.
  • Notice of trademarks and copyrights can be shown by placing the appropriate symbol such as ™ or © on the products ormaterials.

If infringement does happen, you can enforce your intellectual property rights in federal court. Before filing a lawsuit, you should consult with an intellectual property law attorney and carefully consider whether litigation is your best option. Infringement cases are expensive, and there is a risk that your intellectual property rights, once held up to the scrutiny of a judge, will be shown to be invalid or less extensive than you may have thought.

If you do decide to go to court over an intellectual property infringement and your suit is successful, there are a number of remedies available to you.

  • The court can order an injunction. This means that the person infringing on your IP must stop what they are doing.
  • You may be able to receive monetary damages if you can prove that you have lost business because of their actions.
  • Once your rights are established in court, you may be able to agree to a license agreement with your IP. This means the infringing party can continue to use your IP and you will receive a payment from them in return.

International Protection of Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property protection at an international level became an important issue during trade and tariff negotiations in the 19th century. One of the first international treaties relating to intellectual property was the International Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, also known as the Paris Convention. The treaty, written in 1883, provided protection for patents, industrial models and designs, trademarks, and trade names. The treaty has been signed by over 100 countries and has been modified several times over the years to keep up with changing intellectual property law.

  • The Right of National Treatment: This area of the treaty ensures that those seeking a patent or trademark in a foreign country will not be discriminated against just because they are from a different country. They will receive the same rights as a citizen of that country.
  • The Right of Priority:This provision in the treaty gives an inventor one year from the date of filing a patent application in his or her own country (six months for a trademark or design application) to file an application in a foreign country. The legal, effective date of application in the foreign country then becomes the effective filing date in the inventor's home country so long as the application is made within the protection period. If the invention becomes public before the inventor can file the home country application, the inventor loses the right of priority in a foreign country.

While these rules are in place, enforcement and protection of IP at an international level is still extremely complex. Laws vary greatly from country to country, and the political climate within each country, which changes frequently, influences the extent of protection available.

Many U.S. and international IP laws changed significantly after the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was passed in 1994. The countries that signed the GATT committed themselves to a higher degree of intellectual property protection. With guidancefrom the World Trade Organization (WTO), member nations were required to adopt specific provisions in order to enforce the rights and settlement of disputes relating to intellectual property. It created international criminal penalties for anyone found abusing trademarks and copyrights through counterfeiting or piracy.

What Do Intellectual Property Lawyers Do?

There are three segments of intellectual property that lawyers can focus on: counseling, protecting, and enforcing.

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  • Counseling:Client counseling revolves around how best to protect the intellectual property of a specific client. This can include conducting searches on trademarks proposed by clients and counseling them on the availability of those marks. To counsel a client on patents, a lawyer must have a technical background to properly understand the client's patent and assess its validity and likelihood of receiving a patent.
  • Protecting: Protecting a client's intellectual property involves registering their trademarks, patents, or copyrights to obtain the greatest rights available. For trademarks and patents, this means preparing and filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and responding to actions issued by the USPTO.
  • Enforcing: The enforcement of intellectual property involves protecting the client's IP against infringing uses. This can sometimes lead to litigation in federal court.

Other roles of an intellectual property lawyer may include licensing, due diligence for mergers or acquisitions, and developing strategies to protect their IP both internationally and domestically.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I learn more about intellectual property law?

If you want to learn more about intellectual property law, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a great place to start. The organization's website is a forum for global intellectual property services, policies, andinformation. They also run online workshops, seminars, and training courses where you can learn more about a specific piece of intellectual property or laws in a certain country of interest.

If you need help with intellectual property law, you can post your job on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.


What do you need to know about intellectual property law? ›

Intellectual Property law deals with laws to protect and enforce rights of the creators and owners of inventions, writing, music, designs and other works, known as the "intellectual property." There are several areas of intellectual property including copyright, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.

What is intellectual property answers? ›

Intellectual property (IP) pertains to any original creation of the human intellect such as artistic, literary, technical, or scientific creation. Intellectual property rights (IPR) refers to the legal rights given to the inventor or creator to protect his invention or creation for a certain period of time.

What are the 4 types of intellectual property? ›

Patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets are valuable assets of the company and understanding how they work and how they are created is critical to knowing how to protect them.

Is IPR law difficult? ›

IP law is complex. It is not easy to find specialised lawyers who are really good at getting some of the hard IP work done. That means low competition and high compensation.

What are the 3 main components of intellectual property law? ›

Types of intellectual property
  • (Photo: Copyright. Copyright is a legal term used to describe the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works. ...
  • (image: Patents. A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. ...
  • (image: WIPO/Gen a) Trademarks.

What are the 7 intellectual property rights? ›

In India, there are 7 types of intellectual property rights, namely – copyright, trademarks, patents, geographical indications, plant varieties, industrial designs and semiconductor integrated circuit layout designs.

What is intellectual property for dummies? ›

Intellectual property, or IP, refers to anything created by the human mind that is granted the same rights associated with tangible or personal property. These rights are obtained by the IP's creator and function under statutory law on either or both the state and federal level.

What do IP lawyers do? ›

Lawyers tend to specialise in either contentious or non-contentious IP. Non-contentious work involves checking and registering client's rights through, for example, patents and trademarks, as well as drafting commercial agreements to issue licences that allow others to use those rights.

What is class 7 intellectual property? ›

Intellectual property rights are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time.

What is violation of intellectual property rights? ›

The significant violations of intellectual property consist of infringement, counterfeiting, and misappropriation of trade secrets. Violations of intellectual property include: Creating a logo or name meant to confuse buyers into thinking they're buying the original brand.

What are the two main areas of intellectual property? ›

Intellectual property has two categories: industrial property and copyright and neighboring rights. Industrial property includes patents, trademarks and other marks, geographic indications, utility models, industrial designs, topographies of integrated circuits and trade secrets.

What IP is commonly violated by most people? ›

Although intellectual-property infringement can be unintentional, it still unacceptable under the eyes of the law. The most common examples of intellectual property disputes include using another's words, images, or logo without the property owner's permission.

What is the most common form of violation of intellectual property? ›

The most common type of intellectual property dispute is that of infringement. This is where intellectual property is used or appropriated without the owner's permission by another. Infringement can apply to many categories of intellectual property.

What are examples of violations of intellectual property rights? ›

Common examples of Intellectual property violations

Putting your logo on a defendant's product in order to boost sales. Copying and passing off your writing or artwork as their own. Intellectual Property infringements on social media where fraudulent profiles use trademarks or copyrighted material to represent a brand.

What skills do IP lawyers need? ›

Required skills. An IP lawyer must be equipped with skills such as logical reasoning, innovative thinking, drafting skills, management abilities, etc to be able to succeed in their professional career.

Is IP law stressful? ›

The Career

It is by no means an individual effort and takes a group of legal experts and technical specialists to succeed. Stress may come in the form of long working hours, demanding clients, and tight deadlines, but that is true for any law firm.

How do I become a good IP lawyer? ›

How To Become an Intellectual Property Lawyer?
  1. Take any stream in 10+2. Candidate with any stream in plus two level is eligible for taking law at undergraduate level. ...
  2. Take Integrated BA/BBA/BSc/BCom LLB. ...
  3. Take LLM with Intellectual Property Law Specialisation. ...
  4. Take MPhil/ PhD.

What is the importance of IP law? ›

Strong IP rights help consumers make an educated choice about the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of their purchases. Enforced IP rights ensure products are authentic, and of the high-quality that consumers recognize and expect.

What are the 8 elements used to determine infringement of a trademark? ›

In determining the likelihood of confusion in trademark infringement actions the courts look to these eight factors: the similarity of the conflicting designations; the relatedness or proximity of the two companies' products or services; strength of the plaintiff's mark; marketing channels used; the degree of care ...

What is the most important intellectual property right? ›

Patents are the most common type of intellectual property rights that come to people's minds when they think of intellectual property rights protection.

Who owns intellectual property? ›

Generally speaking, the creator or originator of an idea, work, or novel invention is presumed to own the copyright to their creations. However, if the work was created as a part of a work-made-for-hire agreement, or in an employer-employee agreement, the copyright belongs to the employer.

Which is not an intellectual property right *? ›

These are the creations of human intellect such as ideas and concepts which are legally protected. Certain examples of Intellectual property are patents, copyrights and trademark, and it does not include physical property of an intellectual. Hence the correct answer is D.

How can you show respect of others intellectual property? ›

Respecting the intellectual property of others means we:
  1. Obtain proper authorization and licensing agreements before using any intellectual property and strictly follow the terms of use.
  2. Respect copyrights, trademarks, logos, likenesses and other intellectual property in our advertisements and marketing.

What are the main types of intellectual property? ›

Copyrights, Patents, Trademarks, and Trade Secrets – Four Types of Intellectual Properties.

What skills do IP Lawyers Need? ›

IP attorneys need strong communication skills to talk to clients, judges and other lawyers. Clear communication can help lawyers advise clients and explain legal concepts. If an IP lawyer works in a courtroom, they may also need to develop strong negotiation skills to help them reach legal agreements and settlements.

Why should I study intellectual property law? ›

If you'd like to help someone protect their innovations, creative ideas, or inventions, a career in intellectual property law might suit you. It is one of the fastest growing and exciting areas of law to explore. Hundreds of creators make patent applications each day.

What is the main objective of intellectual property law? ›

Intellectual property, as a concept, “was originally designed to cover ownership of literary and artistic works, inventions (patents) and trademarks”. What is protected in intellectual property is the form of the work, the invention, the relationship between a symbol and a business.

What is the importance of intellectual property law? ›

The primary function of intellectual property rights (IPRs) is to protect and stimulate the development and distribution of new products and the provision of new services based on the creation and exploitation of inventions, trademarks, designs, creative content or other intangible assets.


1. Intellectual Property Law Explained | Copyrights, Trademarks, Trade Secrets, & Patents
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2. The Basics of Intellectual Property Registration: Everything You Need to Know
3. 5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Intellectual Property Law
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4. Intellectual Property Law Jobs - Being An IP Lawyer
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5. LAW ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: Essential Legal Terms Explained You Need To Know About Trademarks, Cop
6. Understanding Intellectual Property (IP)
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