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Intellectual Property Basics

Intellectual property is a product of the mind. For example, intellectual property may be any useful, new and nonobvious apparatus, process, article of manufacture, chemical composition, product design or biological plant. These forms of intellectual property are protected by the patent law. In addition, improvements made to existing apparatus, processes, articles of manufacture, chemical compositions, product designs and plants also can be protected by the patent law. Patent law permits the owner of the patent to exclude all others from making, using, offering for sale, selling and importing what is patented.

Examples of Intellectual Property
Intellectual property may also be books, magazine articles, music, artwork, photographs and other works of authorship. These forms of intellectual property are protected by copyright law. Copyright law protects the owner of the copyrighted work with respect to unauthorized copying of the copyrighted work by others.

Furthermore, intellectual property may be a product name, product color, company logo, or other identifier of the source of a product or service. These forms of intellectual property are protected by trademark law. Trademark law protects the owner of the trademark with respect to unauthorized commercial use of the trademark, or a confusingly similar trademark, by others.

Yet another form of intellectual property pertains to trade secrets. A trade secret is any confidential formula, pattern, process, device, information, or compilation of information that is used in one's business and that gives the business an advantage over competitors who do not know or use the trade secret. Trade secret law protects the owner of the trade secret with respect to theft of the trade secret by others.

However, not all intellectual property is protected by law. For example, laws of nature (E=mc2), abstract ideas (a mathematical algorithm), natural phenomena (a new mineral discovered in the earth) or a new plant discovered in the wild are not protected.  On the other hand, practical applications of laws of nature, abstract ideas and natural phenomena, such as in commercial products may be protectible.

With respect to the patent law, not every idea is patentable.  For example, with regard to the patent law, patentable subject matter must fall within one of the four statutory categories defined by the patent statute. That is, the patentable subject matter must be a process (for example, computer software for operating an inkjet printer or a unique business method for distributing inkjet printers to retailers), machine (for example, an inkjet printer), article of manufacture (for example, an inkjet printer cartridge), or composition of matter (for example, chemical compounds such as ink used in the inkjet printer cartridge) in order to receive patent protection. Thus, literary works, such as books, are outside these four categories and are not protectible under the patent law. Rather, literary works are protectible under copyright law.

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