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What is intellectual property?

Most people in California’s Little Saigon area know what it feels like when somebody takes credit for their idea or work. Whether it is a childhood incident done to gain favor or an adult incident done to gain money, it hurts. And it makes you angry. Whether you are an artist, techie or entrepreneur, your work, or intellectual property, is your own. Unless, of course, you work for someone else. If that is the case, the company is the one who owns the IP. But the hurt and anger are still the same, and it is still wrong to use another’s ideas or work.

Intellectual property can be categorized by the protections offered for it. This protection can be divided into three major areas, according to FindLaw, which are patents, trademarks and copyrights.


A patent offers the holder, who is typically the inventor, exclusive rights to create, sell and use it for a set time. Patent types include:

  • Utility patents: Chemicals, processes and machines fall into this category
  • Plant patents: This grouping protects plant varieties that have been grafted or otherwise grown without seeds. Its focus is to cover reproduction of these unique creations
  • Design patents: This category covers a product’s unique design or appearance


This can be a slogan, symbol or device that a business uses to identify themselves and their products or services. For example, Taco Bell uses a multi-colored bell as a trademark in identifying its business and products. Another company using the image, or something that looks like it, may prompt Taco Bell to file a lawsuit for trademark infringement. The issue is whether consumers will confuse the companies and their products.


This protection is for original works such as photographs, software, movies, books and more. Note that, while copyright protects a specific piece of work, it cannot be applied to a general field of work. For example, George Lucas’ famous “Star Wars” movies have copyright protection, but that does not mean other directors or writers cannot make movies about space and aliens. Copyrights give their owners exclusive rights to sell and distribute the work, copy it and make sequels or “spin-offs.”

This article contains general information about intellectual property and should not replace the advice of an attorney.

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