Intellectual Property Protection

Intellectual Property Protection

Intellectual property is the area of law that concerns the protection of original works. Often called intangible assets, the term intellectual property spans a wide range of works that includes books, music, inventions, and brands, to name just a few. Businesses and individuals rely on their intellectual property for their livelihoods, and there are strong laws in place to help protect their rights to their own creations. The proper protection of intellectual property is vital to healthy economic growth, encouraging continued investment in new technologies, artistic creations and inventions.

In modern times, a great deal of valuable intellectual property exists in digital form and is vulnerable to theft and other abuses. Information security professionals need to understand the laws that apply to intellectual property in order to help their organizations effectively protect their intangible assets.

If you are preparing for the CISSP, Security+, CySA+, or another security certification exam, you will need to know what intellectual property is and why we seek to protect it. You will need to understand and be able to differentiate among the four main categories of intellectual property protections: copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.


Patents provide protection to the creators of new inventions by restricting others from making, selling or using the invention. A patent provides the inventor a 20 year exclusivity period, after which the invention moves into the public domain.

Protection under patent law is not automatic. In order to be protected, inventors must apply and be approved for a patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

There are three basic requirements for an invention to be awarded a patent:

  1. The invention must be novel (new).
  2. The invention must have a utility, (be useful).
  3. The invention must be non-obvious (sufficiently inventive).

In the United States there are three general types of patent:

  1. Utility Patents – protect functional inventions and include chemicals, machines, and technology.
  2. Design Patents – protect the unique appearance of a manufactured product.
  3. Plant Patents – protect plant varieties, including hybrids, that are asexually reproduced.


Copyrights protect the expressive arts, such as books, articles, poems, and songs. They give the creators exclusive rights to reproduce, display or perform their work, along with the exclusive rights to financially benefit from their work.

Unlike patents, it is not necessary to register copyrighted material in order to be protected by copyright law – the law protects works from the moment they are created. However, the U.S. Copyright Office has procedures in place to register creative works. Registering with the Copyright Office can help creators if they later need to prove their ownership of the intellectual property.

There are eight types of work that qualify for copyright protection.

  1. Literary works
  2. Musical works
  3. Dramatic works
  4. Pantomimes and choreographic works
  5. Pictorial, graphical, and sculptural works
  6. Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  7. Sound recordings
  8. Architectural works

In the United States, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. For an anonymous work or work for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever is shorter.

In 1998, the United States enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to modernize copyright law and align U.S. law with the terms of two World Intellectual Property Organization
(WIPO) treaties.

Among the major provisions of the DMCA are:

  • Prohibits attempts to circumvent copyright protection, such as the copy prevention technology protecting digital books, music and video.
  • Defines penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet, while limiting the liability of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) whose services are used in the commision of copyright violations.
  • Defines copyright as it relates to streaming audio and video.


Trademarks protect the names and identifying marks of products and companies. Trademark violations enable another company to profit from the reputation and positive branding of the Trademark holder, while depriving the holder of potential revenue and exposing the holder to potential loss of reputation and other harms.

As with copyright, trademark protection is automatic. However, intellectual property owners can register their names, slogans, logos and other identifying marks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

In the United States, trademarks are granted for an initial 10-year period. Trademark holders can renew for additional 10-year periods. There is no limit to the number of renewals.

Trade Secrets

Trade secret law protects the operating secrets of a firm. One of the most famous pop-culture examples of a trade secret is the formula for Coca Cola, but the business world is full of recipes, formulas, methods and procedures that are vital to a company’s competitive advantage.

Many trade secrets could theoretically be protected by copyright or patent law, but there are several problems with such an approach including the need for secrecy and the need for potentially longer-term protections. Trade secret protections are also frequently applied to software which has historically been difficult to protect with copyrights and patents.

The U.S. Government strengthened and formalized trade secret protections with the enactment of the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. This law levies fines and prison time for the theft of trade secrets, with particularly harsh penalties for thefts from U.S. corporations intended to benefit a foreign government or agent. It is important to note that in order to be protected under the law, companies must demonstrate that they have taken reasonable measures to protect their intellectual property.

Understanding intellectual property protection is an important component of your preparation for a variety of security certification programs. If you’re interested in earning your next security certification, sign up for the free CertMike study groups for the CISSP, Security+, SSCP, or CySA+ exam.

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