What Are the 4 Types of Intellectual Property? Empower Your Ideas With Legal Protection

7 minutes
What Are the 4 Types of Intellectual Property

While it typically does not get the same level of attention as marketing or the designing of a product, intellectual property is central to most businesses. The protection of such assets is essential for the prosperity of your company, especially in the eyes of potential investors.

However, if you are like most business owners, you don’t have the time or energy necessary to comprehensively learn the applicable law, especially a highly complex and specialized practice like intellectual property (IP) law.

When the subject of intellectual property is raised, most people think of patents and trademarks. However, there are four types of intellectual property legal tools that yield rock-solid protection in different respects. While patents and trademarks are staples of a strong IP portfolio, this article will expand upon the utility of copyrights and trademarks as assets as well.

What Are The 4 Types of Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property, in its purest form, is a creation of the mind such as an invention, a logo, or even a name. By pursuing property rights over these types of IP, you establish true ownership over your proprietary information and prevent any unlawful use of your property.

Trademarks are logos, phrases, words, or symbols that are unique to the source of a product or service. Such symbols distinguish the business’s services or products from those offered by other companies. One of the most famous examples is the Nike “swoosh” symbol; a trademark most would easily recognize.

Patents serve the purpose of protecting inventions, providing the patent holder with the exclusive right to exclude competitors from developing, using, advertising, or selling the invention across a period of time. A patent grants the right to build, sell, or use the invention in a nation for a specific period of time, typically 15-20 years in the U.S.  Google’s PageRank is a famous patent example developed by tech mastermind Larry Page in the late ’90s. PageRank calculates webpage importance through a tabulation of the link quality and number.

Copyrights are a form of intellectual property protection for original works of authorship, whether it be literary works, art, or books. In the modern day, computer software and architecture are also granted copyright protection. An established example of a copyright is Adobe After Effects; a digital effects program used in different processes of filmmaking, television, and video game production. The last keystone type of intellectual property are trade secrets.

A trade secret is essentially what it sounds like; something there has been an effort to keep secret, that is not typically known to the general public, and something that confers an economic benefit upon the holder of the secret as a result of it not being known to another party. The most common examples of trade secrets are customer information, marketing strategies, or new business models.


Patents are commonly granted for mechanical processes, e-commerce systems, software, designs, and methods and processes. Patents are granted to inventors as property rights. The granting of a patent ensures the inventor has full exclusivity over the invention, design, or process patented. Such rights are granted for a designated period for full invention disclosure. After the typical 15–20-year lifetime of a patent expires, anyone is legally entitled to copy, build, or sell your invention. To help you better understand what is patentable, we’ve compiled a longer list of recent software patent examples from top companies with a breakdown of their patents.

Types of Patents

While each type of patent has its own unique duration, specs, and other nuances, there are only three types of patents you can file for: Design patents, utility patents, and plant patents. Design patents are granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design, and usually protect the design for 15 years.

Utility patents may be granted to anyone who discovers or invents any new and useful machine, article of manufacture, process, composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. Utility patent protections also last 20 years. Finally, plant patents may be granted to anyone who discovers or invents and asexually reproduces any distinct and new type of plant. The lifetime of plant patent protections also spans 20 years.

Provisional Vs Nonprovisional Patents

Provisional patent applications serve as placeholders for one year before filing a non-provisional patent application. These provide the inventor with additional time to conduct more research or fully develop the invention prior to filing a non-provisional application. The provisional patent application is used to describe the invention along with its unique components in extensive detail.

The subsequent conversion and filing of the non-provisional application empower the inventor to claim the benefit of the earlier provisional patent application filing date. This earlier filing date is beneficial because the content of the non-provisional patent application is protected through the application for the provisional patent.

Process of Getting a Patent

Satisfying all patentability requirements is necessary for an invention to be patented, but the key challenge lies in grasping these nuanced requirements and understanding if your invention satisfies them. An invention that is patentable meets the nuanced criteria necessary for a valid patent which can be boiled down to four core criteria. As discussed, the invention must constitute patentable subject matter, as defined by the courts and Congress, and it must be new, useful, and non-obvious. You must also have not yet disclosed it to the public prior to filing the patent application.

Aside from the inventor’s name and invention name, the application also requires drawing figures and additional supporting information. Our patent attorneys have extensive experience drafting these vital components and can help file the patent application on your behalf with the USPTO. If the application is rejected, we will respond on your behalf with an amendment and cooperate with the Examiner accordingly.


Trademarks legally protect a business’s brand, name, tagline, logo, or any unique symbol. Such legal protection precludes other companies from using that intellectual property for financial gain. In application, trademarks are how customers recognize your company in the marketplace and distinguish it from competitors. A trademark accomplishes three goals: It helps identify the source of goods or services as mentioned, provides legal protection for your brand, and guards against fraud and counterfeiting.

It is also worth noting there are many things that may accomplish one or more of these goals that are associated with goods or services but cannot be trademarked. The most common examples include generic terms or phrases, government symbols or insignias, vulgar words or phrases, or proper names or likeness without consent.

Types of Trademarks

Certification marks are symbols, words, names, or devices a business uses to certify the characteristics of a service or good for regional use. Authorized individuals use these types of marks in accordance with their unique services and goods requirements. Trade dress marks differ in that they are to protect unique and source identifying product and package design, yet the protection does not extend all the way to the product’s functionality.

Process of Registering a Trademark

It is possible to file a trademark application on your own through the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), however be advised that there are many post-filing obstacles that may be encountered if proper filing procedures are not taken. One important pre-filing consideration is whether or not the desired mark is available for federal registration.

Our intellectual property lawyers conduct comprehensive searches for trademarks on behalf of entrepreneurs as part of our fixed-fee price. Leave the legal challenges of registering a trademark to us, and we’ll sweat all the complications of the legal process in protecting your mark while you focus on building your business.

Duration of Trademark Protection

Trademark protection lasts as long as you are using the mark in commerce. However, renewal must occur between the half-decade mark and the sixth year following the registration date. Another renewal occurs between the 9-10 year mark following the registration date. Subsequent renewals occur at the 10-year intervals that follow. It is worth noting that there are technically no limits on the number of renewals you can file. If you continue to use your trademark with the same goods or services identified in your application and pay the above-mentioned renewal fees, then you can renew your trademark indefinitely.

Trademark Examples

Trademarks are signified with symbols. The three symbols for trademarks are the nearly ubiquitous R Circle, SM, and TM. The TM trademark symbol is used for goods with unregistered trademarks. The symbol SM is reserved for unregistered trademarks tied to services. The aforementioned R Circle is used for federally registered marks with the USPTO. A common but important mistake you must avoid is that you are required to wait until the application has been approved and the patent office has provided you with an official registration before you can start using the R Circle.


Copyrights serve as the legal property rights over works of authorship. In short, one’s right to copy is a copyright, meaning the creator of the value offering is the only party legally authorized to reproduce it. The purpose of copyright law is to empower creators of the material in question with the sole right to duplicate and use that value offering. In its purest form, protection here may start when any creative or original work is established in a tangible medium.

Examples of copyrighted creations include online content, architectural designs, film, novels, art, software code, and music lyrics. Some of the most notable examples of copyrights for website pages include Spotify, Twitter, and eBay. Plays, books, songs, and motion pictures also typically apply for copyright protections.

While registering a copyright is not essential for copyright protections, it is required should you choose to purse someone infringing your work. The benefits to hiring an IP attorney to help establish copyright protections are vital if or when your property rights afforded by such protections are infringed upon and you wish to file a lawsuit. Let us handle registering the creative work with the United States Copyright Office, and you’ll be free to focus on the fundamentals of your business.

Duration of Copyright Protection

Original owners enjoy copyright law protection for the entirety of their life up until 70 years following death. However, if the author of the copyright is a corporation, legal protection lasts 95 years after the publication date or 120 years depending on which expires first.

Trade Secrets

In their most basic form, trade secrets are processes, formulas, or devices that give a business an advantage over competitors. Trade secrets are an especially important type of IP protection for companies who devote significant time and resources to research and development. Their intrinsic value lies in the fact that they are kept secret, and businesses can leverage the IP protection for their own gain, whether it be for profit or otherwise.

For example, the formula for the popular soft drink Dr. Pepper is a trade secret. Some of the most notable trade secrets include the KFC original recipe’s ingredients, Google’s search engine algorithm, the Listerine mouthwash formula, and the ingredients of the Big Mac special sauce.

Common law safeguards trade secrets. However, merely keeping a recipe or other valuable information a secret will not suffice. When considering the benefits of trade secrets, there are a plethora of ways they can contribute to the growth of your business, and these will depend on the nature of your business and what industry you are in. Generally, trade secret protection will allow you to file a case for a breach of contract, breach of confidence, commercial espionage, or industry espionage.

Before these potential conflicts can arise, there are three requirements that must be satisfied to establish a trade secret: The idea or information must obviously be confidential, the value of the information must provide an inherent competitive advantage to the owner, and the owner must have established security measures and make reasonable efforts to ensure the idea or information is kept secret.

Our intellectual property attorneys are here to help you create contracts that safeguard trade secret secrecy. The Rapacke Law Group can walk you through the intricacies of trade secrets and help you implement a foolproof IP strategy.

Speak With An Experienced Intellectual Property Attorney

The Rapacke Law Group is here to protect your intellectual property, providing an invaluable competitive advantage. We invite you to schedule a no-cost intellectual property strategy call with our attorneys. Reach out to us online or call us at 954-951-0154 to schedule your consultation today!

Schedule a Free Strategy Call
  • Get help identifying what type of IP protection may the best fit for your situation.
  • We explain every step of the IP protection process
  • Get answers to your questions.

Recommended for you

Want more actionable IP tips like this delivered straight to your inbox?