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Intellectual property refers to creations of the intellect for which a monopoly is assigned to designated owners by law. Intellectual property rights are the protections granted to the creators of the intellectual property, and include trademarks, copy-rights, patents and in some jurisdictions trade secrets.
Trademarks permit consumers to identify the source of goods or services. The purpose of trademark law is to ensure that consumers are able to rely on marks in exercising their purchasing preferences by prohibiting competitors from using marks in a way that confuses consumers.
The purpose of copyright law is to stimulate the creation and dissemination of as many works of authorship as possible, in order to benefit the public. It does this by giving creators of works of authorship limited rights in their works. Copyright protection is limited to an author's particular method of expressing an idea. Copyright never gives rights in the idea being expressed, or in facts or other elements of the public domain which the author may have incorporated into the work.
A utility patent or design patent gives its owner a monopoly in an invention for a limited term. Patents are only available for those inventions that are non-obvious, novel and useful, and are fully disclosed. If the Patent and Trademark Office grants a patent, this creates a legal presumption that the invention meets these criteria, but a patent may be challenged in court, either through a declaratory judgment action or as a defense in an infringement suit.
Trade Secret Law
Businesses often develop valuable ideas and information, or "know-how," such as a manufacturing process, a specialized customer list, a computer program or a business method, which give them a competitive advantage in producing or selling their goods or services. Much of the value of this know-how arises from the fact that the creator's competitors do not have access to it. If a business' know-how is found to be a "trade secret," the business may prohibit its employees and business associates from divulging it to others, and prohibit competitors from using improper means to learn it or putting the information to use once learned.
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