Michael K. Cantwell, P.C.

Intellectual Property and Media Law Attorney



Understanding Intellectual Property

Protecting Your Intellectual Property


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What Is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is a category of property that includes copyrights, patents, trademarks and other products of human intellectual activity. Intellectual property is generally protected under four distinct bodies of law –  the law of copyrights, patents, trademarks and trade secrets.

  • Copyrights protect literary, music, audiovisual and other types of “works” that are fixed in tangible form.

  • Patents protect new and useful inventions.

  • Trademarks and service marks (together “marks”) protect words, names and/or symbols that serve to identify, respectively, the source of a product or service.

  • Trade secrets protect any information (such as ideas, inventions, formulas, know-how, programs, processes, and research and development) that derives independent economic value from not being generally known or readily ascertainable. 

There is overlap among these bodies of law, however. A classic example of the interface among these bodies of law is the Jaguar hood ornament, which is protected under copyright law as a sculptural work, under patent law as a design patent, and under trademark law because it functions as an indicator of source.  software programs are copyrightable works but may also be protected by patent law.

How Is Intellectual Property Protected?

Patents and copyrights are protected solely under federal law, trademarks are protected principally under federal but also under state law, and trade secrets are protected principally under state law but also under federal law.

The federal laws governing copyrights, patents and trademarks are the Copyright Act, the Patent Act and the Lanham Act, respectively.   Each state has its own laws governing trade secrets and trademarks. 

Intellectual property owners who succeed in claims brought under these laws may obtain monetary damages (including, in special cases, their attorneys’ fees) as well as injunctions forbidding the future use of the infringing intellectual property.




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