The rules and laws that deal with an individual’s legal rights to designs, inventions, programs and artistic works are all classified under the heading ‘intellectual property’. These laws are designed to protect the creative works of individuals, allowing the individual to profit from what they’ve created. With protection under the law, individuals are encouraged to produce works that benefit the general public without fear of theft. Intellectual property is divided into four categories: patents, trademarks, copyright and trade secrets.

Used by inventors to use and sell their products, a patent is issued for new products, manufactured good and technological advancements. Typically issued for 20 years, the patent is transferable, allowing the holder to sell the rights.

Designed to help consumers avoid confusion, eliminate misleading advertising and separate brand identities, trademarks protect the name, slogan and symbols used for goods and services. Trademark rights can last indefinitely.

Artistic expression and other intellectual works are protected under a copyright. Copyrights are inherent in the writings, music, architecture and other works – even work that has been unpublished. A copyright lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years.

Intellectual ideas, processes and other information that is contrived during the course of business are protected as trade secrets. The trade secret should have commercial value, be protected with confidentiality agreement, and be unknown to a majority of the people who work in the field.

Using another’s intellectual property without authorization is infringement. Infringement can be avoided, in part, by identifying the product as being protected. This is done through securing the appropriate patent, trademark, etc. If infringement does take place, there is legal recourse through the court system.

The development of the tech industry has created a large market for intellectual property, and many countries are creating laws designed to protect individual rights.