4 Types of Intellectual Property & How to Protect Them

Human minds can create all kinds of ideas that include inventions, discoveries, and literary and artistic works. Some ideas can generate significant profits and provide economic benefits for owners who capitalize on them. Owners of these intangible creations or intellectual property (IP) should pursue legal protections before going to market.  However, protecting these valuable assets and ensuring inventors, authors or businesses have exclusive rights is not without its challenges. Additionally, there are going to be times within your organization that you may need to share internally—or externally with a partner—your intellectual property and trade secrets. Therefore, careful consideration must still be taken to protect IP even after you’ve received one of the protections explained below. 

As it turns out, with such a competitive online environment, virtually anyone is capable of claiming ownership. Hence, protecting intellectual property rights is crucial for business owners, inventors, and entrepreneurs. IP protection is often a subject of contention and exclusionary rights protect owners from unauthorized use by copycats, infringers, or thefts. Below are four types of intellectual property protection. 

What is Intellectual Property and Intellectual Property Protection?   

Intellectual property is any creative idea, invention, or work that a person or business creates and has rights to. Intellectual property protection is a service that intellectual property attorneys provide to help a person or business. These attorneys can help protect artistic work, a name, image, invention, or other creative ideas. IP laws are in place to protect ideas and creations from any unfair competition. 

The 4 Types of Intellectual Property Protection

There are 4 types of intellectual property protection. 

These include:

  • Copyrights: A copyright is a way to protect the authorship of a piece of written work. Written work can include a novel, poetry, a piece of music, or art.
  • Patents: A patent is a license or government authority over an invention the owner has legal rights to for a set period. The owner can make, use, and sell their invention. In turn, they publicly disclose information about their invention. 
  • Trademarks: A trademark is any kind of slogan, wording, or logo that represents a brand.
  • Trade secrets: A trade secret is a technique, formula, design, process, or device that a person or business uses to manufacture a product. It’s not readily ascertainable to others and has inherent value.

1. Copyrights

A copyright can give its owner exclusive rights to their original work. The work receives protection, not the concept or idea. For example, painting with watercolors isn’t protected. However, Frank Webb’s interpretation on canvas has copyright protection.

Types of Original Works

Original works are anything choreographed, dramatic, graphic, artistic, literary, or architectural. Examples include pantomimes, books, sculptures, paintings, music, plays, photographs, computer software, and sound recordings. 

Ownership Protections

When an owner has copyright protection, they can create, modify, reproduce, display, perform, sell, and distribute their work. Copyrights start as soon as the owner creates the work and they can transfer ownership when they want. For inclusion in copyright laws, original work is physically tangible, such as a written document, a novel, or sheet music.

Copyrights can last for the life of the owner/author plus 70-years and are not renewable. Any unauthorized use is a violation. Copyright owners don’t have to file for a copyright but it’s easier to enforce protections when they register their work. 

Registering for a Copyright

To register for a copyright, apply through the U.S. Copyright Office. Submit an application and the nonrefundable $35 fee along with a copy of the original work. It can take about 2-3 months for copyrights filed online and 5-6 months for copyrights filed by mail.

2. Patents

A patent gives a person or business property rights and protection over their invention. With a patent, they can improve the product and have a competitive advantage. They also have exclusive rights and can control who cannot sell, make, use, or distribute their product. An example is a pharmaceutical company creating a new drug they don’t want other businesses to replicate. 

Types of Patents

Different types of patents include plant, design and utility. Design patents can last for 14 years while plant and utility patents can last for 20 years.

The different types of patents: 

  • Utility patents: These cover how inventions work and their origins. These types of patents are for machines, manufactured articles or processes, and any types of improvements to a product. Apple airpods that cancel background noises are an example.
  • Design patents: These cover an original or new design or the design of a manufactured object. These patents can cover an invention’s non-functional design and appearance. A smart thermostat that’s configured to monitor environmental conditions is an example.
  • Plant patents: These are for asexually produced plant varieties that use layering or grafting. These patents can protect a select breed of plant or certain types of rose bushes, for example.

Filing for a Patent

To file for a patent, consult an experienced patent attorney and fill out a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patent applications include provisional patent applications as placeholders and these are good for one year. Then, file a non-provisional patent application within the year to continue the patent examination process.  

Patent Applications and Dates

Patent applications can take several years and cost thousands of dollars. However, patents can last for 20 years from the initial filing date or 15 years from the date of issue. The person or business may need to pay subsequent attorney fees every few years after they receive their patent.

3. Trademarks

A trademark is any kind of phrase, wording, color scheme, special design, or symbol that distinguishes a business or brand from competitors in the marketplace. Trademarks should be uniquely identifiable like the PGA Golf logo or the McDonald’s logo. 

Filing for a Trademark

To file for a trademark, a person or business should first research if a similar or the same trademark exists. There are databases (federal and state) with all registered trademarks. To register for a trademark, fill out a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

The person or business should show physical proof of the image and how they will use it with their services and/or products. It’s helpful to hire an IP attorney who specializes in trademarks. They can intervene if there are any infringements to your trademark and you need to send a cease-and-desist letter.

Trademark Timeframes and Renewals

Trademarks start from the date you file your application. Anyone attempting to file the same trademark after your trademark date receives a rejection letter. Trademarks last for 10 years and you can renew a trademark every 10 years for perpetuity. 

While awaiting application approval, the person or business can use the trademark symbol or ™ to identify their ownership. After application approval, they can start using the registered trademark symbol or Ⓡ. 

4. Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are valuable information that a person or business wants to keep secret. Trade secrets can include any type of formula, invention, idea, recipe, work, device, design, or process. A trade secret gives the person or business a competitive advantage over others. Therefore, it has economic benefits.  Examples include surveys, special algorithms, formulas for soda, customer lists, business plans, and recipes. 

Protection for Trade Secrets

Trade secrets receive protections differently than other types of intellectual property. The person or business with the trade secret can request other parties they meet with sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). This kind of disclosure occurs before revealing confidential information about the formula, recipe or design to protect its integrity. 

Other ways to protect trade secrets include post-employment restrictive contracts and limiting access to confidential information for employees. A business should also consider limiting who can access databases where they store IP information. 

When to Encrypt Trade Secrets

There are times when a person or business needs to share their intellectual property with others. In these instances, digital and physical protections are available to protect intellectual property. 

If a second party misappropriates the information, the person or business with the trade secret has to prove this in court. They also have to show wrongdoing, copies, or theft. However, if a person with a trade secret mistakenly reveals it, the information is then considered de facto or no longer private. 

Are Trade Secrets or Patents Better?

Organizations should explore trade secret protection versus patents. Trade secrets for software devices or physical products are sometimes accessible through reverse-engineering. Hence, long-term protection is more secure with a patent. 

In this digital age, more people are working remotely and accessing information from the cloud. Because a person or business may need to share their intellectual property with investors, or they may have employees working remotely, they should consider adding encryption to protect sensitive IP data.

Types of encryption that can protect trade secrets include: 

How Can Virtru Protect Your Intellectual Property?

Ultimately, intellectual property represents hard work and valuable ideas that need protection. Because they have monetary and inherent value, protecting them is key. Hire an experienced IP attorney who can help with the application process and background research for patents, trademarks, and copyrights. An IP attorney can also help with setting up non-disclosure agreements for trade secrets. 

Encryption serves as an added layer of protection for your IP. With Virtru’s easy-to-use email and file protection capabilities, organizations like yours can secure data sharing workflows with end-to-end encryption. By ensuring that valuable IP doesn’t end up in the wrong hands, your investments are protected from unauthorized use 

If you’re interested in learning how Virtru can help your organization, contact us to see how easy it is to keep your business’ data private and encrypted.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Connect With Us


Dive Deeper