IP law, or intellectual property law, deals with protecting and enforcing the rights of creators and owners of writing, music, designs, inventions, and other proprietary work. Intellectual property law also covers copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. The goal of IP attorneys is to help their clients protect their valuable intellectual property from theft and copying, says IP attorney Daniel Schnapp.

While this may seem pretty straightforward–the creator owns their own work–intellectual property cases can quickly become very complicated. Rights and licenses can be sold to third parties, permanently or temporarily lending out the works. Proper precautions have to be taken to safeguard trade secrets or they may not be considered proprietary under the eyes of the law. A technicality can mean the difference between protecting your business’s intellectual property and losing your competitive differentiator.

Basic IP Terminology – Daniel Schnapp Explains


A license is like a contract, says Daniel Schnapp. But instead of buying services or goods, you are granting permission for someone to use your patent, trademark, or copyright. Licenses allow copyrighted music to be played in movies, nationally recognized logos to be displayed on franchises, or for artwork to be displayed. Licenses don’t mean that ownership of the intellectual property has been transferred, just that it’s been lent out until it’s revoked or the agreed-upon time period ends.

Nondisclosure Agreement

A nondisclosure agreement–commonly referred to as an NDA–is a contract that legally binds a party to keep certain trade secrets and privileged information secret. While this does not protect from honest mistakes, it can deter malicious intent and outright thievery. It’s also a way to protect your company from employees who would use your proprietary training, products, or formulas to start their own business, says Daniel Schnapp.

Prior Art

Daniel Schnapp says finding the difference between work that is “inspired” by another artist or work and actual copyright infringement can be very difficult. The same is true in manufacturing and scientific advancements. How can you tell what’s building on existing knowledge and what’s just copying?

That’s where the concept of prior art steps in. Prior art is the state of the industry before a new work or invention is released. If the state of the industry is changed by the new invention, that often means that it is a completely new and different product. This may mean it is safe to patent and copyright.