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Intellectual Property Law for Beginners

June 17, 2021
Binder labeled intellectual property sits on a desk in a conference room

Intellectual property is integral to nearly every industry, so it’s important to understand the core tenets of this complex practice of law. However, for lawyers, it’s doubly as critical to understand how this field continues to evolve.

Whether you’re interested in working with entrepreneurs or in moving into a more exciting practice, you need to take that first step and understand the basics of the field. Below you’ll find Cardozo Law’s “IP 101,” or intellectual property for dummies. They may seem complex on paper, but when they’re applied to the real world, they can be much more challenging.

“IP 101”

Types of Intellectual Property Protection

There are four types of intellectual property law: copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret. Each is complex in its own right. Copyright protects artistic works, ranging from film to music to even architecture. Patents cover new inventions or innovations, and trademark applies to branding and logos.

The final protection is trade secret, which only applies under certain circumstances laid out by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The three requirements it must meet: The protected information needs to have “actual or potential independent economic value” because of its secrecy. It needs to hold value for those who could not legitimately gain access to the information. Finally, reasonable efforts must have been made to keep this information secret.

Why Intellectual Property Law Matters

The goal of intellectual property law is to protect innovation and creation, so those who put the work into advancing technology, their industry, or art are rewarded for that work. These protections prevent other competitors from infringing or duplicating your innovation or branding. In cases of trademark, it can serve as a critical tool in protecting your reputation and its value from imitators offering an inferior knockoff.

Nearly every industry is affected by intellectual property law. Creative industries are impacted, filmmakers, artists, musicians, and more. Technology, data, and privacy fields are also protected as well: their code or proprietary programming can fall under these laws.

Limits of Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property protections don’t come without time limits, however. For example, a work covered by copyright law will last until 70 years after its author’s death. However, that changes when the author is unknown or anonymous. Trademarks require renewals every decade, but trade secrets remain protected until they are no longer secret.

The reach of intellectual property law is also something often under constant debate. Concepts such as “user rights” and “fair dealing” as well as antitrust and competition laws can also impact the protection being offered to certain innovations. As new technologies emerge and change the interpretation of intellectual property law, it is very likely that the limitations will continue to evolve.

International Intellectual Property Law

An often overlooked component of intellectual property is what the practice looks like overseas. Just as no country’s legal system is the same as another, intellectual property law changes as well. This creates a patchwork of laws that are challenging to understand in a strictly legal context, but cultural and linguistic context is equally as important.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a self-funding agency of the United Nations, is working to build an effective intellectual property law system, in addition to acting as a source of reference and advocate for the practice’s benefits, policies, and services. WIPO is a helpful reference in understanding the limitations of these regulations on an international scale as well.

Future of Intellectual Property Law

What’s next for intellectual property law is still unknown. Questions about unused trademarks, the impact of artificial intelligence, and more are coming up as the business evolves.

The relationship between intellectual property law and technology is still evolving as well. Recent cases over proprietary code and programming have gone all the way to the Supreme Court. The legal system is currently determining how laws that are intended to protect creators and innovators will work within an industry that’s defined itself by “open-source” software, or lines of code and programming freely available for others to use.

Accomplish More With Intellectual Property Law

When it comes to protecting authorships, intellectual property law is the greatest tool. However, mastering this practice is not an easy task. While reading up on it can help you understand the fundamentals of the law, it can be challenging when it comes to applying it in the real world. Understanding the complexities of the field and how it’s interpreted is key to being a successful lawyer.

If you’re ready to make that leap, be sure to choose a leader in intellectual property law to support you on your path. The intellectual property law program at Cardozo School of Law is ranked No. 10 in the country, by U.S. News & World Report. We have been specializing in this practice since it was still a growing practice of law. Today, every business is impacted, and our faculty are both researching and practicing in the many industries it influences, including film, music, computer science and other entrepreneurial enterprises.

With our online LL.M. in Intellectual Property, you’ll be able to dive deep into the complexities of intellectual property law with true experts and know you’re prepared to stay ahead of tomorrow’s challenges.