What are the Different Types of Intellectual Property?

Ken Black
Ken Black
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

Four major types of intellectual property are recognized around the world. These include patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrecy. Although there may be other types of intellectual property protected by some countries as well, most things fall under these categories. Violations may or may not be prosecuted in certain parts of the world, depending on each country’s own policies regarding such property. Little recourse is available to those who feel they have had intellectual property stolen in a country where there are few controls.

One of the most common types of intellectual property is known as the copyright. This protects all original works for the author or creator of those works, and includes such things as art work, motion pictures, sound recordings, and written language. The copyright lasts for a period of 70 years after the author’s death for printed materials in multiple countries, including the United States and Great Britain. Copyright duration for motion pictures, sound recordings and other works could vary more widely, depending on the work and the country. If an author creates a work while being paid by someone else, typically the intellectual property rights are considered sold to the buyer.

For business and industry, one of the most important types of intellectual property is known as the patent. Most countries have a patent office where inventions can be registered, and thus protected from being copied or otherwise exploited by others. Patents are only good in the country of origin, and therefore those who want to protect the invention in foreign countries will need to submit separate patents in those locations as well. The patent in the original country will keep a counterfeit invention from being legally sold in that country, if made by someone else and imported. If a significant improvement is made on the original invention by someone else, that person may be able to patent the improved product.

The trademark is another intellectual property type that is often seen because it protects the way a business identifies itself. Without a trademark, any business could take an image that has come to symbolize another business, and use it for their own purposes. Trademarks may need to be renewed from time to time, so that the government knows they are still in use, and the business registering them is still in operation.

One of the least known types of intellectual property is known as the trade secret. This may be, for example, a recipe used by a fast food or beverage company to make a product, or even a unique design or manufacturing process. Disclosure of this information would put the company at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace. A trade secret is not registered, but if it is stolen, the company holding the secret has the right to seek a legal remedy to the situation. In order for something to be a trade secret, it must be reasonably protected, and not obvious.

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