A creative person possibly thinking about what IP meansSpecializing in intellectual property (IP), we often come in contact with people who know they have something unique to protect, but aren't entirely sure what that is. Cornell University School of Law defines intellectual property as "any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others."

That definition is accurate, fine, and useful...if you understand the legal speak they're using. But for the lay person, what is IP for a creative type?


The first test to determine if something is intellectual property is to decide whether or not it's unique. This is essentially decided by whether the person creating the product, regardless of what it is, used creativity. Nearly everything invented meets this criteria, so long as it isn't based entirely on something already in existence. However, the actual product created must be unique. For example, clothes pins have been around for quite a while, but at some point someone realized that by clipping it on your nose it could block out smells.

While that use is certainly unique, the product itself didn't change. It was not intellectual property because the product remains the same.

Tangible versus intangible assets

Another area to keep in mind that some people overlook in intellectual property issues is the difference between tangible and intangible assets. Many people feel the only products that can be legally protected from theft are things that one can pick up (i.e., tangible assets).

Intangible assets, on the other hand, are simply assets that cannot be physically picked up but rather are protected by IP law. A perfect example of an intangible asset is a brand name. You can't physically hold, for instance, Nike in your hand, however you are barred from using it to make money yourself.

Be prepared. Go to the store to purchase ID your IP, software that identifies potential intellectual property and creates a custom strategy to protect it.

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