Types Of IP Rights
What is ‘intellectual’ property?
Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names and images.
There are four primary types of IP rights, which are issued nationally.
Patents protect inventions and some designs.
A patent provides the right to exclude others from practicing an owner’s invention in exchange for sharing information about how an invention works.
For an inventor to receive a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or another issuer, it must be “novel and non-obvious.”
U.S. utility patents are issued for a term of 20 years from filing.
If new information is revealed calling a patent into question, it can be ruled invalid.
Works of creative expression are protected under copyright.
Copyrights cover content like songs, books, movies, photographs, recordings, newspapers and some designs.
For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection, typically accompanied by a ©, lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.
For a work made for hire (e.g. on behalf of an employer), the term is either 95 or 120 years.
Expired copyrights are works that are in the public domain and can be copied or used without a license.
Names, symbols and phrases are protected under trademark law.
Trademarks cover branded products and businesses (Big Mac, Nike, Mickey Mouse) and often carry an ® registered or TM. Phrases like “Super Bowl,” “Let’s get ready to rumble!,” and “Hasta la Vista, Baby” also can be trademarked.
Trademarks are issued by the USPTO to individuals or businesses for an unlimited term. Owners must enforce their marks or lose them.
Counterfeit goods often infringe an owner’s trademark by creating confusion in the buying public and diluting the value of the a product or business.
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A trade secret is knowledge that a company possesses that provides a competitive advantage it believes is too valuable to divulge. Trade secret protection lasts as long as it is kept confidential
“Negative” know-how – such as research that does not lead to a successful invention – can be very valuable to a business or competitor and can be protected as a secret.
Employees are often asked not to reveal trade secrets while working for a business or after they leave under penalty of law.
Examples include the formula for Coca-Cola, McDonald’s special sauce, Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Google search algorithm and selected business processes and lists.