• Video

What is Intellectual Property?

Professor James Stern briefly explains intellectual property and what sort of things are protected by it. These private rights are specifically enshrined in the Constitution, which grants Congress the power to create patent and copyright laws. But questions about ownership and the boundaries of intellectual property can be complex, especially in comparison to tangible property rights. https://youtube.com/watch?v=6uleHZTAmvI


Intellectual property is a domain of different systems of private rights that we establish in law that operate in a way that's very analogous to conventional property in land or in tangible physical items, or even in other kinds of intangibles that we recognize as property like your bank account, which is not physical, but which we think of as being yours. Intellectual property is, broadly speaking, it's a category that in US Law, US Federal Law embraces a couple of different major categories of areas that can be protected. We protect inventions that inventors come up with, basically new technologies. That's the domain of patent law. We protect expressive works. They may be creative like a fine painting or a sculpture or they may be quite technical like an owners manual, but where we're dealing with expressive communicative works, protections may be available under the law of copyright. Both of those are contemplated and expressly authorized in Article One of the Constitution, which grants Congress the power to create patent and copyright laws. We also have trademark laws. Trademark laws protect essentially brands or business names, the names that are used and other ways of signifying where particular products come from or that a particular set of products comes from the same place. Whether it's your Nike Swoosh or any number of other ways in which we signify that a product comes from one particular source and not from another. Really, if you think of a patent or a copyright as representing itself a kind of ownership, the question is who owns the thing that's subject to copyright? Who owns the thing that's subject to the patent? Those are some pretty significant similarities. On the other hand, there are some differences. When you walk down the street you've got a pretty good idea what's private property and what's not. When you're on the sidewalk, versus when you're on someone else's land. When it comes to something that's subject to patent or copyright, you might not know that. You might not know that there's a patent or a copyright at all and you might not know that patent or copyright extends to the particular activity that you're engaged in, that can happen more with copyright than with patent. And it can be hard to know exactly what the boundaries of the protected item are. What is the limit of the technological principle that's embodied in my patent? That is to say, what would count as copying my, let's say, the plot of a movie that I wrote or copying a musical composition that I wrote? There can be much more difficult boundary questions in those situations and likewise also with other areas of IP.

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