Intellectual Property 101: What it is and Your Rights

Intellectual Property (IP) is the overarching term for several aspects of the legislature that are intended to establish and maintain the connection that a creator or owner has to an idea, be it a piece of music, text, image, design, or invention. As soon as a person creates something, that person gains several benefits of IP protection, depending on its particular nature. This article will explain the different types of IP and what actions and protections the IP’s rights holders can exercise and expect.

Categories of IP

Broadly speaking, there are four different types of IP:

  • Copyright. This protects the creator’s rights for fine arts, published works, entertainment, and computer software. Action can be taken by a copyright holder if they discover anything tethered to their copyright is copied, presented, or even just displayed without the holder’s consent.
  • Trademark. This form of protection puts a high focus on the “mark” in its name; this form of IP governs words, phrases, symbols, and designs that are used to identify a particular brand of service. A trademark’s owner can block other parties from using their trademarks or marks that are so similar to the trademark that it could make it hard for the general populace to distinguish the two.

    While governed by both state and federal law, the primary arbiter of trademark protection comes from the Lanham Act. All of this red tape is intended to safeguard against infringement and dilution of trademarks. Trademark rights are acquired by either being the first party to use them within commerce or being the first party to register them with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).
  • Patents. These oversee and legally protect new inventions, be they products, processes, or designs. A patent holder can stop others from making, operating, distributing, or importing the patented item. The simplest way to think of a patent is as a property right that can be commodified; it can be licensed, sold, mortgaged, or assigned to other parties so long as it has been registered with the PTO.
  • Trade secrets. This covers anything used by a business to give it a competitive advantage unknown to outsiders. As their very nature is secretive, trade secrets enjoy protection without ever having to register them but the holders of such secrets must do what they can to preserve such confidentiality.


Sometimes it is not enough to just claim you hold the rights to an IP and demand another party to stop infringing upon your IP. Other times, you may have discovered that someone has been ignoring your rights to an IP and you want to know just how long or by what degree that another party has been ignoring them. It is during these times that you should consider hiring a professional to conduct an IP investigation. These professionals can assess damages and then help you take the offender to court. While the courts are how such bad actors are punished and any earnings from their actions can be redirected to the IP’s owner, there are some circumstances, like when trade secrets are exposed, where some damage is permanent.

Fair Use

This is a defense that protects the unlicensed use of copyrighted materials, so long as that use is restricted to criticism, commentary, news, education, scholarship or research. While an economics class that spends a week on The Walt Disney Company’s multiple extensions for copyright to stay private, that class could cite fair use while using images of Mickey Mouse. It should be noted that fair use’s validity as a legal defense is measured against four factors.

  1. The purpose/character of the usage.
  2. The nature of the copyright.
  3. How often is the trademark used?
  4. The impact of the use on the copyright’s value.


Intellectual Property is a legal concept that protects the creations and ideas of those who either own or have created those concepts. While there are multiple forms of IP, the courts can enforce the owner or creator’s ties to an IP when someone infringes upon it, often after consulting IP investigators. As for accusing someone of copyright infringement, fair use is one defense defendants can use but such a claim carries certain requirements.

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