Adopting & Creating OER

10 Intellectual Property: Copyright, Trademarks and Patents

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) defines intellectual property as creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. IP is protected by law including copyright, trademark and patents. This IP system balances the rights of creators to profit from their work and supports innovators using the content. 


In the U.S., copyright is automatic the moment a work is created. However, a work is not copyrighted until the content is in a fixed form. An idea that has not been manifested in some tangible way cannot be copyrighted.


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office defines a trademark as any word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies goods or services. A trademark identifies the source of your goods, provides legal protection for your brand and protects against counterfeiting. Consumers use trademarks to identify a brand and choose a product based on that trademark, for example, differentiating a preferred soft drink such as Coke or Pepsi.


Patent law gives inventors a monopoly for a term of 17-20 years from the patent application date. Patents typically give inventors the exclusive right to make, use and sell inventions. The USPTO has a detailed patent process overview website.

The pandemic fueled a major patent infringement lawsuit concerning vaccines. Moderna filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Pfizer and BioNTech claiming they copied their mRNA technology.






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Connecticut College Pressbooks Creator Guide by Ariela McCaffrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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