What is Intellectual Property and Why Should It Be Protected?

Intellectual property is a term that refers to a wide range of property rights derived from intangible objects – the products of your mind. You will learn about the significance of security in this section.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP) is the result of human intellect: inventions or works of the mind. IP can be divided into two categories: copyright-related rights and industrial property.

Copyright and similar rights apply to creative works such as literature, film, musical works, computer software, artistic works, broadcasting, and sound recordings. Patents, trademarks, architectural designs, and geographical indications are examples of industrial property, but often computer software falls into the industrial property category, too.

Legal structures recognize the value of works considered intellectual property and, as a result, confer a set of rights that protect both the IP and its creator. These are referred to as intellectual property rights. The most convincing reason for IP security is that humanity’s growth and well-being are dependent on continuous technological advancement and a thriving creative community. Society ensures that the creator(s) are rewarded for their ingenuity and efforts by assigning intellectual property rights, and by incentivizing them and others to continue their work.

The notions of patents and copyrights have been in society for centuries, long before the Industrial Revolution.  Because of the Industrial Revolution, IP laws have flourished and strengthened inventor’s and author’s rights.

What Does Intellectual Property Law Protect?

According to the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), intellectual property includes patents, copyrights, and trademarks. 

IP law also includes trade secrets, which are specified by the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”).

Types of Intellectual Property


A work that is copyrighted must reside in a physical medium. For example, a writer may copyright a book as long as it has been printed in its final form, either electronically or physically. Other works of art may also be protected by copyright.

The Library of Congress allows creators to register their copyrights.


According to the USPTO, a trademark is a name, expression, design, or symbol that identifies the source of the products or services. Trademark symbols can appear after a company’s logo, tagline, or emblem.

Patents and trademarks must be registered with the USPTO. Otherwise, developers would have a tough time enforcing their ownership in a legal setting. The USPTO reviews patents and trademarks to see whether any person or company has licensed anything similar. The USPTO has the authority to reject an application if the patent or trademark is not sufficiently unique.


The concept of patenting is sometimes misunderstood. People will often say, “I’m going to patent this idea or that invention.” However, a patent does not grant you the right to use or manufacture anything. In reality, it grants you the authority to *prevent* anyone from producing your product. 

Getting a patent means giving up your trade secrets.  You must tell the world how to make or use your invention, and in exchange, you get the ability to enforce your claims.

Keep in mind that a patent will expire, typically 20 years from the filing date.

Trade Secret 

A trade secret is any knowledge (which may include a formula, device, method, design, technique, process, or other items) that:

  • Since it is confidential or difficult to determine, it has real or future economic importance. 
  • The owners make fair attempts to preserve confidentiality.

Examples of trade secrets can be recipes, formulas, and your internal processes.  Other examples can be your computer algorithms, data sets, and other IT infrastructure.  If you manufacture a product, your manufacturing equipment, process parameters, raw materials, suppliers, and other hard-fought information are your trade secrets.

Another example of trade secrets may relate to your marketing, advertising, and general business.  These include your customer list, your pricing and financial models, your cost of goods, your advertising and sales materials, and even your scripts used for sales calls.

Any information that gives you a competitive advantage is a trade secret.

Why is intellectual property important?

Intellectual property and intellectual property rights are essential for any business. IP is your competitive advantage – it is what differentiates you from your competitor.

Even if you are reselling someone else’s product, your marketing tactics, your pricing structure, or your distribution channels might be your IP – and your competitive advantage.

When you are competing against a competitor with a different technology solution, your technology becomes one more layer of competitive advantage and your IP.

The IP protections in virtually every country of the world are designed to encourage creativity.  You have an incentive to invent or try something new when you have the protection of patents, trademarks, copyrights, or trade secrets.  Competitors cannot steal your IP without penalty.

Enforcing those rights, however, has become very expensive.  This is why IP insurance can give you the power to enforce your IP, and also the ability to survive litigation from someone else’s enforcement of their IP.