Why Is Intellectual Property So Confusing?
Intellectual property is confusing because the regulatory laws are confusing. There are different types of intellectual property. Depending on which type you’re dealing with, you might need to file for different protections. Can you properly define the differences between a patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secret? Most people can’t, but that’s why we have lawyers — and legal websites like this one!
Another confusing aspect of intellectual property: Are you protected automatically or do you have to apply for protection? It depends.
A copyright is a legal protection provided for published works such as books, music, and some types of art. Most people don’t realize that copyright protections are automatic. If you write something, you have copyright protection — primarily because plagiarism is illegal. You can (and should) still register the copyright for additional layers of protection.
Patents seem less important these days because individual inventors usually no longer exist. Most inventions come from big companies that already have legal teams who know whether or not a patent is needed. Patents protect a new product idea from being stolen before the actual product makes it to market. The idea might also be called a trade secret.
Trade secrets are specific pieces of information that, when stolen, would damage a business. For example, take the cereal you eat everyday. You know the ingredients. Could you make it yourself? Of course not. The exact recipe is a trade secret.
Last but not least, you have trademarks. These are also automatically protected. Another company can’t simply steal your brand or copy your logo. There are notable exceptions for brands that are dissimilar enough that consumers are unlikely to become confused. Delta Faucets are obviously different from Delta Airlines even though they have similar trademarks. Words and phrases can also be trademarked.
The words “Intellectual Property” or IP are really umbrellas that encompass all of the aforementioned protections. IP is defined as an idea-based product or service. Computer algorithms are IP. Books are IP. Paintings are IP. How an invention was made is IP. The list goes on.