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Understanding Different Forms of Intellectual Property

Protecting intellectual property is a vital part of most business operations. Intellectual property rights allow us to claim ownership over a certain creation, so that we can get due credit when that creation is used. In the field of intellectual property protection, that creation is usually called “art.” However, art isn’t limited to oil paints on a canvas; intellectual property law protects authorship, inventions, designs, and proprietary processes. What are the different kinds of intellectual property protection, and how can you best protect your art going forward?

Can Ideas be Protected?

Before we proceed, it’s important to note one thing that far too many people overlook: an idea itself cannot be protected under intellectual property law. The expression of an idea, as in the form of copyrighted materials, can be protected. And the application of an idea, as in the form of a patentable invention, can also be protected. But until an idea has been developed into something more, there’s no way to claim legal ownership.

Here at Global Patent Solutions, we’ve worked with innovators developing ideas both big and small. Frequently, we see that there’s a fundamental misunderstanding about how patents are different from other forms of intellectual property protection. Here’s a brief rundown to help you understand the distinctions:

Four Types of Intellectual Property

There are four classifications of intellectual property protected under US law. These include:

Trademark (for products) or Servicemark (for services)

Trademarks (and servicemarks) protect producers and/or brands by acknowledging the source of a certain product or service, and setting it apart from competitors. Trademark registration is optional, as it’s acquired simply by use. However, registering with the USPTO can give you added protection and greater ability to enforce exclusivity.


Copyright protects authorship for creative works, whether those works are in the form of music, literature, choreography, graphic design, etc. Copyright, much like trademark, is acquired through use. However, additional protection is available to protect exclusivity when a work of authorship is filed with the US Copyright Office. Copyrights are held for the author’s entire lifetime, as well as 70 additional years.

Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are a less-familiar form of intellectual property, probably thanks to the fact that there’s not a federal system for regulating, filing, and protecting trade secrets. Instead, it’s up to the owner to protect using nondisclosure agreements and reasonable measures of confidentiality. Trade secret law prevents the misappropriation of trade secrets, meaning that individuals or companies can be punished for unauthorized sharing or use of a trade secret. Trade secrets may come in the form of things like Coca Cola’s secret recipe, or Google’s ranking algorithm.


The most well-known form of intellectual property protection comes in the form of patents, which are made to protect an invention. It’s important to note that there are several different kinds of patents, including:

  • Design
  • Plant
  • Utility

In order to obtain a patent, it must be registered with the USPTO, in a lengthy approval process. Patents are valid for 20 years from the first file date. A utility patent is the most common form of patent (and usually, the most valuable). However, a utility patent can only be obtained if it can be proven that the art is novel, useful, and non-obvious.

Here at Global Patent Solutions, we provide data that helps inventors understand where their invention falls within the existing landscape. Our trusted research gives more information regarding the novelty, as well as the possible applications and value of the new invention. Oftentimes, inventors reach out for patent search in order to determine whether they need to modify their invention in order to make it more unique and valuable.

Reliable patent search is the first step in protecting your idea. Contact us to learn what we can do for you!