The Difference between Intellectual Property and a Patent

Intellectual property is a creation that comes from a mind. It may be formed through written expression, inventions, art, music, films, photographs and even as a business symbol. Intellectual property laws protect an owner’s exclusive rights to their work. There are several kinds of protections under the law which provides competitive protection for ideas, formulas, and trademarks. A patent is a method to protect an invention, and an invention falls under the spectrum of intellectual property.

Laws may vary between countries on protecting intellectual property; some countries take this issue very seriously and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, and others do not view intellectual property as exclusive. Some nations perceive music, ideas, programming code (software) and movies as a free for all, and countries that enact laws have been striving to bring intellectual property awareness across the globe in hopes of encouraging nations which do not have preventative measures in place to respect the various intellectual property laws.

In many countries, protection under the law is available for owners to secure their intellectual property. Some forms of intellectual property protection are copyrights, trademarks and patents.

Copyright protection protects written expression, movies, songs, dances, music and photography to name a few. When an author creates one an expressive idea which comes to fruition in one of the above forms, a copyright gives the creator the exclusive right to control, sell or license their property. A copyright lasts for the creator’s life plus 70 years. Business copyrights are a bit different because they run “for 120 years from the advent of creation or 95 years from the publication of work, whichever is shorter” (Jennings, 2006).

Trademarks are pictures, words, logos, or designs which an organization may use to promote their business or as a means to provide a unique identification to their company. A business can register a trademark as property, but there must not be a generic term related to the trademark. For instance, in the U.S., the Harley-Davison company sued for exclusive use of the word “hog”, but the courts determined that it was too generic of a term to forbid other companies from using that word associated with their products (Harley-Davison, Inc. v. Grottanelli). The courts deemed this word was not an acceptable trademark.

Patents are a form of intellectual property protection. Their purpose is to protect inventions which have been formed into tangible items and it prohibits others from marketing, selling or using the invention without permission. There are 3 kinds of patents, utility, provisional and design; a utility patent is the most common and typically covers the formula or method of an invention. A design patent protects the exact look of the invention, i.e. a pocketbook design. Protections vary, a utility patent lasts for 20 years, design patent for 14. Laws across the globe may vary when it comes to patents, for instance, in provisional patents, international law gives patent rights to the first person who files for the patent, but U.S. law gives the patent to the person who creates the invention and brings it to fruition.

Intellectual property and patents are inherently related, but they are not defined the same. Intellectual property is a broader term that describes creation and expression of an idea, whether it be an actual invention or an expressive idea. A patent is a form of protection for intellectual property for inventions.

Technology has brought an interesting twist to intellectual property because of the new challenges which have come about. The courts have had to deal with traditional intellectual property issues with a twist because computers and the Internet have complicated the protection issues due to practices such as peer to peer file sharing, piracy and the simplicity of copy/paste. Unfortunately many people feel since something is available for the taking, it means this behavior is acceptable even though many nations prohibit these actions. The protection of intellectual property has been and will continue to be a hot issue, especially now that technology has made theft of intellectual property very easy and appealing.