What is Intellectual Property (IP)

General IP: Intellectual Property (IP) is the catch-all term for non-physical but identifiable property. Think of the text of a book: it can be presented in various languages, or different physical forms, but the underlying content remains the same. This underlying content is the intellectual property. In the USA, there are 3 main designations for IP protection that individuals can utilize, these are: Copyright, Trademark and Patent.

Trademarks v Patents v Copyright: Trademarks, Patents & Copyrights all cover different types of IP, and have different goals.

  • Trademarks can be logos or phrases, and are generally intended to help an individual tell one brand or corporate entity from another. They must be federally registered and renewed, and expire if they are not renewed. For example, the Cornell seal is trademarked by Cornell, and cannot be used without Cornell’s permission
  • Patents can be for mechanical processes or formulas, and are generally intended to limit production to the patent holder. They must be federally registered and renewed, and expire after time. For example, a medication can be patented, and can then only be produced with permission of the patent holder.
  • Copyright can be on any creative expression in a fixed medium. They do not need to be federally registered or renewed. For example, the copyright to this website belongs to Cornell (but we are licensing it under a CC-BY-ShareAlike )

For an all-inclusive example, let’s imagine a bottle of Coca-Cola. The Coca-Cola Corp owns the trademark to the name Coca-Cola, as well as the trademark on the bottle shape, and the graphic representation of their name. These are all things that help distinguish them from other cola brands and define their individual product. Coca-Cola also owns the patent on their formula. This means that no other corporation is allowed to make their cola in quite the same way Coca-Cola makes theirs. Coca-Cola also owns the copyright on their ads and jingles, and the creative copy on their bottles. Unless your use meets a Fair Use standard, you are not allowed to use their copy without receiving their permission!