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What exactly is intellectual property?

When you create something in California, that something becomes your intellectual property. In other words, intellectual property is something you produce out of your own mind. As you might suppose, you have the right to exclusively control your intellectual property. This includes selling the product, just like one would with any other type of property an individual owns. 

The World Intellectual Property Organization explains that intellectual property comes in a variety of forms, including the following:

  • Literary compositions such as books, articles, poems, etc. for which you can obtain copyright protection.
  • Artistic pieces such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, architectural drawings, musical compositions, websites, films, videos, etc. for which you can also obtain copyright protection.
  • Technological designs such as computer programs, databases, maps, technical drawings, etc. for which copyright protection likewise applies.
  • Inventions and processes for which you can obtain a patent protection
  • Product-specific commodities such as logos, designs, slogans, etc. for which you can obtain a trademark protection.


    When literary, artistic or technological creation reaches its final form, it automatically becomes copyrighted, allowing a copyright symbol on the product. However, in order to enforce a copyright, it must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. to obtain a registration certificate that serves as proof for 70 years. Once the registration is secured, no one else can claim, copy, sell or distribute the good as theirs. Should someone attempt to do so, you are able to conduct legal action and sue them for copyright infringement. 


    A patent is obtained for a product by registering it to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. Patents allow the exclusive right to sell, lease or license an invention or process to others. Patents come in two categories: utility and design. A utility patent, which lasts for 20 years, is needed if one is seeking to protect ownership rights to a machine or process. A design patent, lasting for 14 years, is required if one is seeking to protect ownership rights to a specific design, such as one that appears on a piece of glassware. 


    Unlike a copyright or a patent, a trademark can last forever. A product simply needs to be continually utilized in order to identify clear trademarking properties. A trademark license is acquired from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. It grants an initial 10-year trademark, but the license can be renewed each decade for additional terms. 

    This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.

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