“Intellectual property” refers to protecting a creator’s intangible works. IP law breaks down into four areas: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.
Patent law covers scientific processes, such as the creation of a drug or software. Obtaining a patent will prevent anyone other than the patent holder from creating that drug (i.e. manufacturing a generic) for a set period of time. Patents are transferable.
Trademark law covers slogans, names, symbols, and other marks which are used to identify a particular business or product, such as McDonald’s Golden Arches. Owning a trademark allows the owner to bring suit against anyone who tries to copy the trademark for purposes of confusing the public, like sellers of knockoff designer handbags.
Copyright law protects original works such as books, movies, and songs. Like patents, copyrights eventually expire and the works enter the public domain–such as classic books Amazon offers for free on Kindle.
Trade secrets law protects the process by which companies create something which may give them an advantage over competitors. A well-known example of a trade secret comes from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”– Slugworth asked each child to bring him an Everlasting Gobstopper because he wanted one of Wonka’s trade secrets.