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What Is Intellectual Property?

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Last editedMar 20222 min read

Intellectual property refers to various intangible, or non-physical assets that are protected by a company or an individual. Common examples of intellectual property include trademarks and copyrights. In this post we’ll deep dive into intellectual property and its various types, as well as discuss what’s meant by intellectual property infringement.

Intellectual property definition

Intellectual property, sometimes shorted to IP, refers to any intellectual creation, such as a design, an invention, a brand name or a musical work, which is protected by law. These legal protections may be copyrights, patents or trademarks. It is essentially means of protecting an author of an intellectual work, ensuring they are the only one to have authorization over the distribution of their work or creation.

The principle behind intellectual property relates to the notion that ideas or intellectual creations, known as intangible assets, should be protected in much the same way as physical property, or tangible assets.

Types of intellectual property

There are various different types of intangible assets which can be protected. Some of the most common are listed below.


A patent is granted by a government agency, in the U.S. that’s usually the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patent grants the inventor exclusive rights over their invention. This might be a design, a technique, an idea, or a material invention. Technology and software companies frequently patent their designs. Back in 19080, Steve Jobs and three of his colleagues at Apple were granted a patent for the personal computer, for example.


Copyrights permit authors and creators of any original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution. Authors of published books usually copyright their work, as do song writers and composers. With copyrights, creators are able to grant authorization to use or duplicate their work through a licensing agreement.


A trademark is a logo, image, slogan or phrase which is strongly associated with a company, for example the arches of McDonald's, or the Nike’s phrase “Just do it”. A trademark belongs exclusively to a company and cannot be copied or used by anyone other individual or body.


A franchise is a license allowing another company or individual to use the franchisor’s name, image or trademark. A franchisee pays a start-up fee and ongoing licensing fees to be able to operate under the franchisor’s name.

Trade Secrets

A trade secret is a unique process, practice or recipe used by a company which is kept secret from the public. Trade secrets are protected by the company themselves. The recipe for Coca Cola is a famous example of a trade secret.

What is intellectual property infringement?

Intellectual property infringement involves the violation of an intellectual property right. This might mean copying a company’s logo or image without permission from the company. It can also mean creating counterfeit items, which are fake replica products of real products made by a company. Common examples include designer label knock-offs. A copyright violation can be plagiarism of a novel or a song too.

Trade secrets tend to be protected by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), whereby a party agrees not to disclose information to the public. If they do share the protected information, they are guilty of infringement.

Penalties for intellectual property infringement range from a small fine, to a prison sentence and are often considered serious offences.

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