If you own a business or are considering a new business, you should be familiar with the so-called intellectual property. Intellectual property is a phrase used to describe certain legal rights that people may hold about "creation of the mind," such as art, writing, invention, design, ideas, music, or choreography. There are four main types of intellectual property – copyrights, patents, trade secrets and trademarks.
Copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects the original author of published and unpublished works. According to copyright law, the author's rights to these works are only the property of the sponsor within the specified time. Once the time period has passed, these works are open to others for copying and reprinting.
Copyright is registered with the US Copyright Office. Copyright submitted in 1978 or later will continue throughout the author's entire life plus 70 years after his or her death.
A patent is a property right applicable to the law [as opposed to any artistic or cultural work] and must be distributed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Typically, patents are applied to items such as processes, machines, manufacturing designs, biological discoveries, or "material compositions."
As with copyright, the inventor obtains a patent only for a period of time before it expires. Patent applications usually last for 20 years from the date of filing a patent application.
A trade secret is a practice, design, formula, process, recipe, or idea used by a company to enable it to leverage in its industry. Often, trade secrets are hidden in their own hidden ways, not through government policies such as patents or copyrights. An example of self-protection that is often used with trade secrets is to lock relevant information in a bank vault. Because trade secrets lack legal protection, they can be used by anyone if they are leaked to the public.
Trademarks include any words, phrases, symbols, logos, designs or equipment used in connection with a particular brand or item to distinguish them from other products in the industry. Trademarks are used for identification purposes and are legally protected once they are registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office.