Intellectual Property

AuthorDavid W. Tollen
Intellectual Property
This appendix provides a brief explanation of intellectual property
(IP), a field of law important to many IT transactions, particularly
software licenses.
Intellectual property law lets creators monopolize certain prod-
ucts of their intellect. Because of IP law, you can own an invention
you’ve developed. You can also own software or a story you’ve writ-
ten, a photograph you’ve taken, music you’ve written or recorded, a
sculpture you’ve carved, a name or logo you’ve used in commerce,
and various other types of intangible property. And your ownership
covers more than just physical products. If you build a better mouse-
trap and get a patent, you can monopolize the invention so that no
one else can build mousetraps like yours. If you write a story, you own
more than the copies you print; you can keep anyone else from print-
ing and selling your story, because of your copyright. In other words,
if you have a patent or copyright, or one of the other forms of IP, you
can monopolize the intangible products of your brain.
Companies can own intellectual property, too. They usually own
IP their employees create within the scope of their duties. And, of
course, they can buy IP.
Intellectual property plays a central role in the IT industry, but it’s
important not to exaggerate its reach. Many IT professionals assume
someone owns every innovation. That’s wrong.1 In fact, you should view
intellectual property as the exception, not the rule. In U.S. law, ideas and
innovations are free as the birds. If I come up with a great idea and tell
1. This misunderstanding leads to excessive concerns about ownership of “feed-
back,” discussed in Chapter II.N (“Feedback Rights”).

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