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What types of things are intellectual property?

Many people automatically think about copyright when the topic of intellectual property comes up. If you haven't written or created something, do you need to worry about your intellectual property rights? The answer is yes, because many other things are defined as intellectual property, especially in a business environment.

The World Intellectual Property Organization defines a number of high-level categories for this type of property. Copyright, patent, trademark, industrial design and geographic indication can all be a form of intellectual property that you need to protect. As a business, your intellectual property often goes hand-in-hand with your brand and reputation. It took time to develop and is valuable, and you don't want someone stealing it or misusing it.

Copyright covers the rights you as a person or entity have to work you created. Patents cover the rights you have for an invention. One you patent the design, someone else can't legally use it to make and sell a product without your permission or without a substantial improvement or change that can be separately patented. Trademarks protect your brand -- you can trademark a logo, a company name, or the name of signature product lines.

Industrial design property rights protect your designs of products, and geographic indications protect your ability to specify your company's geographic origin on packaging and products. Company A from Manhattan might have a different brand than another company of the same name in Texas. The Manhattan company can market it's products as "Company A Manhattan" while the Texas-based company cannot include the Manhattan designation.

While laws protect your intellectual property rights, mistakes can be made. Others might infringe on those rights even without meaning to, which is why it's important to work with a professional to stay vigilant about your intellectual property and brand.

Source: World Intellectual Property Organization, "What is Intellectual Property?," accessed May 12, 2016

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