An Overview on Intellectual Property Law

How the law protects 'creations of the mind'

Creatives and scientists create works that fall under the protections of intellectual property law. If you have invented something or created a work of art or brand, you may find it helpful to understand what protections the law offers you and how it helps you stake a legal claim on your work.

The following overview gives you a look at the different categories of intellectual property. After you have identified what category your work belongs in, you may find it helpful to visit with a lawyer to help you get the legal process started.


Intellectual property is more abstract than your run-of-the-mill property because it involves “creations of the mind,” things like artistic expression and design choices. The goal of intellectual property law is to establish the owners of ideas and creations so that the government can enforce the owners’ right to use them exclusively. The understanding is that this protection will help ideas keep their value because they cannot be easily replicated and passed around. These laws also offer protection from fraud and keep innovation alive and well.

Intellectual property law is an umbrella term that covers patents, copyrights and trademarks. Included in these laws are remedies for violation, which include cease and desist letters and damages.


Patents create property rights and are generally obtained to protect inventions and prevent others from making, using or selling your invention. Patents don’t last forever, though in some cases it may be possible to extend them. Be aware, however, that a patent will only protect your fully developed invention; it will not protect your idea. 

There are three kinds of patents: utility, design and plant. Each patent grants you the right to exclude (prevent other people from making or selling the invention) and the right to sue for infringement. To obtain a patent, you will need to follow a detailed application process, which you can learn more about and this link.


Copyrights are used to protect artistic works. Examples of works eligible for copyright include books, music, choreography, photos, sculptures and architecture. Like patents, copyrights do not exist indefinitely, but they do generally outlive the copyright holder.

Once you have created an original work, copyright actually exists automatically. If you want to enforce it in litigation, however, it may be necessary to register your copyright. Additionally, while it is no longer required, a notice of copyright can also strengthen your claim.


A trademark is a recognizable word, phrase or symbol that is used to distinguish the source of products. Registering a trademark protects brand names and logos and is registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This office recommends considering the likelihood your mark will be confused with other marks and how similar your trademark is to others that already exist.

You are not necessarily required to register your trademark to establish rights that the law will protect. Simply using the mark in commerce is often enough to establish the rights. Registration, however, provides public notice that you have legal rights, and it allows you to use the registered trademark symbol. Follow this link for more information about registering your trademark and the benefits of doing so.

Common Questions

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

  1. What is considered intellectual property?
  2. Does my idea qualify for a patent, trademark or copyright?
  3. How do I make sure my ideas are protected?
  4. What do I do if someone is using my intellectual property?
  5. Can I appeal registration decisions?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is important to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory, and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices intellectual property law. It might also be helpful to speak with someone with specific experience with trademarks or patents

Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

Filing applications to protect your intellectual property can be a complex process that you want to ensure you do correctly on your first attempt to save yourself time. A lawyer can help you apply for protection with the level of detail and specificity that is expected.

If you would like to bring a case against someone for appropriating your intellectual property, the help of a lawyer will be indispensable. Your lawyer will gather necessary documentation and help you interview potential witnesses to prove you have a claim to the creation.

A lawyer will be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them. Your lawyer will also keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies, giving you one less thing to worry about.

Why Super Lawyers?

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The patented selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations. The objective is to create a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys that can be used as a resource for attorneys and consumers searching for legal counsel. As Super Lawyers is intended to be used as an aid in selecting a lawyer, we limit the lawyer ratings to those who can be hired and retained by the public. You can learn more about the selection process here.

Other Featured Articles

Intellectual Property Icon Intellectual Property

How to Prepare for the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board

What Texans need to know about trademark oppositions and cancellations

Intellectual Property Icon Intellectual Property

Tips for Licensing Your Intellectual Property

What the laws say in Ohio when you want to grant the use of your idea

Intellectual Property Icon Intellectual Property

What is Fair Use, Anyway?

When using a copyrighted work is not infringement in North Carolina

View More Intellectual Property Articles »

Page Generated: 0.061444997787476 sec