Intellectual property can be images, ideas, concepts or arrangements of words. It can be divided into three categories: copyrights, trademarks and patents. Legal protection for intellectual property varies depending on the overall category. The idea behind the concept of intellectual property is that certain products of human intellect hold the same value as a physical product and should therefore be afforded legal protection.
The categories of works that are protected under copyright law include software, paintings, literary works, photographs, movies, sound recording, musical works, and television broadcasts. Only copyright owners have the right to replicate their work, lease it out to others, produce derivative works or publicly perform it. While a work does not have to be copyrighted to be protected under copyright law, doing so enters the copyright into public record with a date which makes it a lot easier to prove it in court.
Copyright only covers the work itself. This means that while the movie “Star Wars” is covered by copyright, other people are still allowed to make a movie in space with an evil empire, a young hero and an ancient, supernatural religion. However, if a later movie is too similar to “Star Wars”, it can be considered copyright infringement and entitle the original copyright holder to damages. What constitutes copyright infringement and what does not is ruled on a case by case basis.
A trademark is any word, symbol, name, device or combination of these that is used or is intended to be used to clearly identify a product from one manufacturer in comparison to other, similar products. In essence, a trademark could be considered the brand. Famous examples are the Nike swoosh or Adidas’ three stripes. Also, the phrase “Hakuna Matata” is trademarked, for example.
Similar to copyright, a trademark does not have to be registered to be considered a trademark, it just has to be used. However, just as with copyright, registering a trademark has advantages. For example, it is much easier to prove how long a trademark has been used with a registration date to support the claim.
A patent legally protects an inventor against other parties using their invention unless licensed to do so. This is supposed to encourage useful inventions by guaranteeing inventors the opportunity to profit off their inventions which are often the result of years of hard work and require taking risks.
There are three kinds of patents, utility patents being the most common. These include new machines, chemicals and processes. Design patents protect the unique appearance or design of manufactured objects. Then there are plant patents which are granted for new plant varieties - including hybrids - as well as asexual reproduction processes for these plants.