There are four general areas of legal protection available for the exploitation of intellectual property. These are (1) patents, (2) copyrights, (3) trade secrets, and (4) trademarks. The area or areas available for protecting any particular type of intellectual property will depend on the specific type under consideration.

The Constitution of the United States (Article 1, Section 8) gave Congress the right or power to enact laws concerning patents and copyrights. In particular Article 1, Section 8 states the following:

The Congress shall have the power... to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

The basic philosophy behind both the patent laws and copyright laws is to encourage authors and inventors to publicly disclose their respective writings and discoveries. This disclosure, in turn, is to add to the total sum of knowledge publicly available. To encourage such disclosures, patent and copyright laws were enacted to provide certain rights to authors and inventors. The patent laws have been codified as Title 35 of the United States Code (USC) and are referred to as 35 USC. The laws directed to copyrights are codified in Title 17 of the United States Code and are referred to as 17 USC.

Because the entire field of patent law has been preempted by Congress, individual states are excluded from any legal control over patent law. In addition, since Jan uary 1, 1978, Congress has preempted the copyright law and, therefore, all rights created from January 1, 1978, and thereafter are subject to federal law.

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