Intellectual property law can seem complex to many individuals and business leaders in Texas; however, we strive to make this area of law understandable to our clients.
The confusion for many starts in the term Intellectual Property itself. After all, the concept of property is generally associated with physical items such as land, vehicles, or goods. On the other hand, “intellectual” denotes something of the mind, that is less concrete than typical property.
For those who run into intellectual property law challenges, it is important to understand the four basic types of intellectual property: trademarks; copyrights; patents; and trade secrets. Although all four of these fall within the intellectual property area of the law, each refers to different ideas.
For starters, trademarks are a part of intellectual property that people see every day. These are the “brand” marks that identify unique sources of goods or services – a product or company logo, for example. Common examples of trademarks include the golden arches of McDonald’s or the “swoosh” on a pair of Nike shoes. Such trademarks are closely associated with a company and its products and are easily identifiable.
The concept of a copyright is the expression of an idea in some tangible form. That is, a copyright protects the author (or owner) of original works, such as literature, art, and music, as well as computer software. Your business’ website or images or designs and anything flowing from those works might be protectable by copyright.
Patents issued by the United States Patent Office protect (for a limited period of time) new products or methods for creating products. Patents may also cover designs of products such as some of the designs for Apple’s iPhones.
Trade secrets include the secret formulas or information that keep businesses ahead of their competition – most famously secret recipes such as Coca-Cola’s formula or KFC’s blend of spices. Trade secrets, however, can provide protection for almost any unique, private information involving a business’ products, processes, or methods that gives them a special edge in the marketplace – so long as that information is kept secret and cannot be “reverse engineered” by your competitors.