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Happy World Intellectual Property Day!

It’s April 26, which means it’s World Intellectual Property Day. How are you planning on celebrating?

Long ago, the only types of property were physical objects and real property (also known as “land.”) The law eventually came to recognize that the intangible works of the human mind were also valuable and worthy of protection. Hence, intellectual property.

Click here for a free intellectual property for entrepreneurs checklist

Definitions vary, but in the U.S., we typically identify four categories of intellectual property:


The U.S. Copyright Office defines copyright as “a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.”

Copyright protection extends to most types of creative works, including (but not limited to): written works, such as novels, poems, and blog posts; works of visual art, from a quick sketch to an oil painting, and everything in between; musical works, including compositions and recordings; audio/visual works, such as movies, videos, and podcasts; sculptural works; computer software; architectural works, and others.

For more on copyright, click here to listen to my podcast episode “What Is a Copyright?”

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And just this week, I posted a podcast episode on a particular copyright topic: “What Is Fair Use?”

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A trademark is anything that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others.

Most trademarks are comprised of words, images, or a combination of the two, but anything that can identify the source of goods or services can be a trademark.

The core purpose of trademark law is to allow consumers to have confidence in the accuracy of labels and other information that tells them where goods or services come from. This allows the market to build trust in the consistent quality of brands.

For more on trademarks, click here to listen to my podcast episode “What Is a Trademark?”

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A Patent for an invention is the grant of property rights to the inventor. In the U.S., these rights include:

  1. The right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention.
  2. The right to exclude others from importing or exporting the invention.

These exclusive rights are granted for a limited period of time (usually 20 years) in exchange for teaching the world how to make and use the invention.

Trade Secrets

A trade secret is a piece of information, not generally known or reasonably ascertainable, that gives a business an economic advantage over its competitors. Trade secret protection requires reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy.

Some famous trade secrets include the recipe for Coca-Cola, the formula for WD-40, and Google’s search algorithm.

Intellectual Property in the Digital Age

Do people still call it “the digital age?” That seems very 1990s.

In any event, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is using the 2016 World Intellectual Property Day to explore the future of culture in the digital age:

Films, TV, music, books, art, video-games –cultural works, in short– have long crossed borders. But the WiFi era is transforming how consumable culture is created, distributed and enjoyed in markets that are expanding far beyond national boundaries. Ever more accessible digital technologies have swept away physical constraints, placing a world of cross-cultural collaboration at the fingertips of every artist and creator, feeding the imagination in new ways. And with this blooming of digital creativity comes the boon to the digital consumer. We read, watch and listen to the works of countless creators across the world wherever, whenever and however we want.

Reimagining culture – how we create it, how we access it, and how we finance it – is not without challenges. And the challenge of a flexible, adaptive intellectual property system is to help ensure that the artists and creative industries in our digital universe can be properly paid for their work, so they can keep creating. So for World IP Day this year, we’re exploring some of the issues surrounding our cultural future.

Intellectual property affects all of us, so, despite the proliferation of This Day and That Day, I’m glad we have this annual opportunity to consider and discuss this important topic.

OK, now go create some intellectual property.

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