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What are the Four Types of Intellectual Property?

When you have a great idea, it can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. After all, what is preventing another person from stealing your idea and cashing in on it before you get the chance to? If you understand intellectual property - and how it relates to what you’re working with - you’ll understand that there are solutions to be found.

What are the four types of intellectual property? How does each help protect ideas and those who create them from being robbed of their due? Here, we’ll guide you through the process of protecting what’s rightfully yours - and getting the reward you deserve for your bright ideas!

What is Intellectual Property?

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, intellectual property is any creation that originates in the mind, including an invention, a work of art or literature, a symbol or design, or a name or image used for specific purposes such as in commerce.

Under today’s laws, intellectual property can be protected under a variety of platforms, each of which offers specific benefits for particular scenarios.

What are the Four Types of Intellectual Property?

types of intellectual propertyWhich type of protection your intellectual property is guarded by under the law will depend on the type of intellectual property you are protecting. There are four primary types. These include:

  1. Patents
  2. Trademarks
  3. Copyrights
  4. Trade secrets

Each of these are used to protect a specific type of information or ideas. Which one is right for the idea you or your company has? Let’s look at each one in greater detail to help you make that decision.


Patents are generally used to protect ideas for new inventions or products. There are two types of patent protection available. These include protection for the unique function of products - how they work - and their aesthetic, which relates to how they look or their visual appeal. Aesthetics are typically guarded by design patents, while function is protected by a utility patent.

Which patent is right for your invention? Think about how you might describe your product to another person. Would you focus more on the unique way it works or unique visual appeal? If you’re still stumped, it may be in your best interest to speak to a copyright lawyer to sort out which type of patent would best suit you.

In some cases, you may qualify for both types of patents. However, this can cost a lot more out of patent when filing, so be sure to speak to an attorney before deciding to go this route; you may only need to invest in one type of patent for suitable protection!


A trademark is protection for your brand. When you’re building a company or business, you want to protect the name you’re creating for yourself. A trademark can help you do that. Anything that your consumers can use to recognize your company or products by - such as your brand name, logos, tag lines, commercial jingles, and more - can be trademarked as part of this protection.

When creating a new product or company, it’s important to research before jumping into the world of trademarking your idea. After all, there’s always the possibility that another brand already has something similar. If that’s the case, its' time to rework your idea to strive for something more unique. If not, trademark that idea right away - that way, you’ll be the first to lay claim to it before someone else gets the chance!


If you’ve purchased a product or looked at a package in the last few years, you’ve undoubtedly seen a copyright in action. Today’s products are typically well-marked with copyright symbols, indicating that the companies  that distribute them have exclusive rights to their sale.

What does a copyright protect? Generally speaking, it is more of a safeguard for the artistic side of the creative community, protecting things like:

  • Literary works
  • Music
  • Architectural designs, plans, and finished works
  • Photography
  • Graphic art
  • Sculptural artwork
  • Dramatic or theatrical works
  • Choreography
  • Motion pictures, and more

Copyrights are the reasons you can’t simply reproduce your own version of your favorite brand’s labels or your favorite Hollywood movie.

Trade Secrets

A trade secret is typically information that is unknown to the general public - or “secret” - and is related to the practices or workings of a business. This might include anything from business plans, consumer information lists, research and development lists, and more. In many cases, only a single person or small teams of people are privileged to this confidential information.

Access to trade secrets is only granted to those who have a need to know about them, which generally includes employees of the company who interacts with the parts of the company or the equipment to which the information is related. Releasing the information to new parties should be done only as part of a legally binding nondisclosure agreement, which, if violated, can result in legal action.

The protection for this type of information lasts as long as the information is still considered a secret or is still relevant to the business that is using it. If the business ceases to take meaningful steps to protect this information, it is no longer considered confidential or valuable, and the protection will expire. Likewise, once the information leaks to a large enough audience, protection will also expire, though legal action may be possible if this leak is through no fault of the business owner or employees.

If you need help determining which type of intellectual property protection you need - or just want some assistance navigating the process - contact the legal experts at Johnson Dalal. We can help you make sense of protecting your best and brightest ideas.

For more information, call our firm today at (954) 507-4500.

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