The general public has become more aware of intellectual property. This does not mean, however, that most people understand that intellectual property is not a single concept, but is composed of four different and distinct areas of the law: copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents. While these areas have some things in common, they are governed by a unique body of rules and requirements and are generally designed to protect different sorts of intellectual creations. For example, copyright law protect works of authorship whereas patents protect inventions. In addition, while there are federal criminal statutes that protect copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets, there is no statute that criminalizes patent infringement.
1. Patents are the law of inventions. In general, the subject matter of patents may include products, processes, compositions of matter and improvements. Excluded from patent protection are laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas.
2. Copyright protects almost all works of creative expression so long as they have some modicum of orginality and are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
3. If copyright is the law of authorship and patent is the law of inventions, trademark is the law of consumer marketing and advertising. A trademark is any symbol, word, name, device or any combination of these used to identify products, services, or their producers in the marketplace.
4. Trade secret protection is very broad. Virtually any sort of information may qualify as a trade secret so long as it is used in a business, has some independent economic value and is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.