As a business owner, you may already be aware of the need to protect your intellectual property and that your business could suffer if you fail to do so. However, you may not be entirely sure of what intellectual property is or what it includes. Intellectual property is separate from tangible property; therefore, the laws that govern each are distinct, as well.

IP includes products of human intellect. When you have ownership over intellectual property, you have the right to not only use it as you wish, but to also create the conditions under which other people can use it. The law affords your property protection from unauthorized use. Intellectual property falls into one of four categories.

  1. Copyrights

Copyrights protect intellectual works in the visual arts, drama, music and literature. The creator of an original work of authorship can claim copyright protection.

  1. Patents

If you invent a new chemical, process or machine and would like to prevent others from selling it or making copies, you can apply for a patent. Keep in mind, however, that to receive a patent and protect your inventor’s rights, you must disclose specifics about your invention to the government.

Different patents are available for different types of products. Design patents protect the unique appearance of a manufactured object, while plant patents protect new varieties of vegetation.

  1. Trade Secrets

These include compilations, formulas, patterns, programs, processes, methods or techniques. They are not in the public domain and are of economic value to the owner.

  1. Trademarks

The purpose of a trademark is to distinguish your business from competitors. They consist of a logo, name, symbol or device used for identification of your company as you conduct commerce. A trademark can also apply to smells and sounds.

Intellectual property protection does not necessarily last forever. The duration of the protection depends on the type of intellectual property you own. Trademarks last for 10 years but are renewable. Depending on the subtype, patents endure for 14 to 20 years. Copyrights usually expire 70 years after the author’s death. Trade secrets can endure indefinitely.