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  May 28th, 2015 | Written by

Intellectual Property Rights Breakdown

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  • You technically own a copyright in every email you have ever written or sent.
  • A good trademark makes a company recognizable worldwide, but why does it also make them the most vulnerable?
  • Thought a U.S. patent protected you for life? Wrong...

Intellectual property rights come in a variety of forms, each one different from the other, offering varying strengths and weaknesses appropriate for achieving different goals. In order to use the right one at the right time it is important to be familiar with the types and understand some basic facts. There are variations around the world, but in most countries these three principle I.P. rights are similar the majority of the time.



A patent is an exclusive right, granted by the government, which allows an inventor to use and sell an invention he or she has created. However, that monopoly doesn’t last forever as the most common type of patent in the U.S. lasts only 20 years. During this 20 year term, the inventor can prevent anyone else from using the invention without his or her permission.

The main issue faced by patent offices around the world is patentability—how to decide when someone has invented something worthy of a patent. In the U.S. system, an invention needs to be unique, non-obvious and useful, in that the invention is real and not a hypothetical creation.



A copyright is also an exclusive right to control a creation—but this time the creation is artistic and often has no practical use. Typical items covered by copyrights include books, paintings, photographs, movies, music, etc.

A copyright means that the creator, or author, of a work gets to decide if, when and how the creation is distributed and/or copied. The author also decides who is allowed to make derivative edits such as translations, adaptions, etc.

As a copyright does not cover the title of a work or a creation consisting of information commonly available to everyone (i.e. a basic calendar), it is important to note that copyright law covers an expression of an idea rather than an actual idea.

Originally, obtaining a copyright took many formal steps and processes of approval, but the world has moved away from such formalism. Now, a copyright is considered to automatically exist on every creative work that is produced. If you want to enforce that right as a practical matter you will still need to register it, but conceptually you own a copyright in every email you’ve ever written and sent.




For most businesspeople, trademarks are the I.P. right that matters most. Trademarks cover source identifiers—words, images, or designs that help a consumer to know who produced and distributed the products and services that they purchase. As many products are sold outside of the country in which they are produced, being able to identify the source of a product is essential for consumers so they can pick good products and punish bad producers.

On the flipside, a good trademark also makes a company vulnerable to counterfeiters, as trademark imitators steal from both consumers and businesses when they sell goods under stolen brand identities.