Navigating Intellectual Property and Trademark Law for Your Business

Intellectual Property and Trademark Law protects creative works such as music, literature, movies, software, and artwork. It also helps creators and owners reap the benefits of their hard work.

However, copyrights, patents, and trademarks can be confusing. It’s important to understand the differences between them so you can get the best protection for your intellectual property.


Copyright is the legal protection for original creative works, such as novels, books, poetry, music, photographs, movies, computer programs and other kinds of work. It starts automatically as soon as a work is created and lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years after their death.

Copyright also protects creative works that are not independently created but are derived from an existing work. These are called “copyrightable materials.”

Trademarks, on the other hand, are primarily designed to help consumers identify and avoid confusion in the marketplace. They cover distinctive words, phrases, logos, symbols, slogans and other devices used to identify and distinguish products or services.

Both copyright and trademark can be confusing to understand, but it is important to know what each one protects if you’re a business owner. Knowing how to navigate these laws can be the difference between a successful business and a failed venture. Luckily, Nolo’s experts can help you with all of your intellectual property and trademark law needs!


Patents are government grants to an inventor of the right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention. They are typically granted for new and useful machines, manufactured products, industrial processes and significant improvements of existing ones.

In some countries, patents may also be granted for new chemical compounds, foods, and medicinal products and for the processes used to make them. Special provisions allow patents directed to certain distinct and new varieties of plants (Plant Patents) and new original and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture (Design Patents).

To be eligible for patent protection, your invention must meet the requirements of being novel, nonobvious, and non-infringing. It must also be capable of being produced by a person having ordinary skill in the field and not obvious from the prior public knowledge about the subject matter.


Trademarks are a type of intellectual property that consists of a sign, design, or other symbol that identifies goods and services from one source. They make it easier for consumers to identify products or services as coming from a particular company and prevent confusion in the marketplace.

They are governed by both state and federal law, and the federal trademark statute (Lanham Act) preempts much of state common law.

Copyrights are a form of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship such as writings, music, and art. They last for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years after the death of the author and include protection for the performance, display, and web transmission of the work.

Trademarks also are a form of intellectual property that protects the name of a product or service and its logo, slogans, and other distinctive elements. These are called “trademarks.” The term can be used to describe a variety of products and services, but the most obvious ones are food, clothing, and other consumer items.

Trade Secret

A trade secret is a design, formula, process, invention or other piece of intellectual property that is not publicly known. It gives a business an advantage over its competitors.

A company can protect its trade secrets using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or other forms of confidentiality. However, the protection can be lost if the information is revealed to someone outside of the company.

Alternatively, a company may choose to obtain a patent to protect the intellectual property. This gives a company a monopoly over the information for a certain period of time and excludes others from using it.

To qualify for trade secret protection, the information must have economic value to the owner and have been maintained as a secret for some reasonable period of time. In addition, the information must not be available in the open market. The value of the information can be established by comparing it with the price that a legitimate market would have paid for the same information.

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