An Overview of Intellectual Property Rights

An Overview of Intellectual Property Rights

Whether you want to protect your own work or stay on the right side of the law when using someone else's work, here is a rundown on the different types of intellectual property rights.

by Crystal Everson, J.D.
updated September 19, 2020 · 4 min read

Whether you are a writer, photographer, inventor, or just someone who enjoys the work of others, intellectual property rights will affect you. Understanding which right applies to which work, the type of protection you are granted, and how you obtain the right are all addressed below.

An Overview of Intellectual Property Rights

Understanding Intellectual Property Rights and Why They Are Important

Intellectual property, also known as IP, refers to creations and ideas of the mind. IP rights are given to the creators so that they can protect their inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images. The rights holder has exclusive rights over their creations. The duration of the rights and protections will vary, depending on the type of IP rights granted—such as a copyright, patent, or trademark.

Intellectual property rights are important because they provide acknowledgment and a financial benefit to those who create and then share those creations with the public.

Without the guarantee of some type of protection for their efforts, people might not be motivated to be as innovative and creative. They certainly would not be as forthcoming with their work, and the public would suffer a great loss if this were the case. Without patent protection, pharmaceutical companies would not come up with life-saving medications. And, without copyright protection, authors would be reluctant to share their literary masterpieces that have brought enjoyment to billions.

Types of Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual property rights laws exist to protect creativity. Because there are different ways to express creativity, the law specifies various types of IP rights—each offering different protections and a separate process to secure those rights. Below are six common IP rights:

  1. Copyright. A copyright protects literary and artistic works, including books, music, paintings, films, computer programs, and databases. The copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, record, broadcast, translate, and make adaptations to their work. A work is protected by copyright as soon as it is recorded or put down on paper. Registration is not required, but registered copyrights have more benefits.
  2. Trademark. A trademark protects the design, words, slogan, symbol, or combination of any of those elements that distinguish your products or services from those of your competitors. Trademark protection can be obtained either through use or registration. If you do not register your trademark, it is only protected locally. However, by registering your trademark, you gain protection nationwide. A trademark is only protected for as long as it is in use. If you don't use it, you lose it.
  3. Geographical indication (GI). A GI protects products that have a specific geographical origin, particular qualities, and a reputation because of the place where they are made. GI protection is most often associated with food, wine, and spirits. A GI holder cannot prevent someone from making a product using the same technique, only from calling it by the same name. An example would be Champagne, which has to be made in Champagne, France, to carry the GI of Champagne. Other sparkling wines made in the same manner as Champagne must go by a different name. To have the right to use the GI mark, you must complete a certification process and meet all of the listed standards.
  4. Utility patent. With a utility patent, an exclusive right is granted to inventors of a new or novel product or a process. The utility patent holder has the exclusive right to prevent others from commercially making the product, using it, distributing it, importing it, or selling it. You must file a patent application before you are granted utility patent rights.
  5. Industrial design patent. A design patent protects the aesthetic of an item, as opposed to the function that is protected in a utility patent. The owner of a design patent has the right to prevent others from making, selling, or importing items that use the same design. You must file an industrial design patent application before you have these rights.
  6. Trade secret. A trade secret protects confidential information such as formulas, patterns, methods, or techniques that a business would use to gain an economic advantage over its competitors. To qualify as a trade secret, the information must be commercially valuable, known only to a limited group of people, and proactive steps must be taken to keep the information a secret. Trade secret protection does not expire but can be lost if the information becomes common knowledge. A trade secret does not have to be registered to be protected.

Intellectual property laws and protections were designed to encourage creativity and innovation. However, the rights holders are not the only ones who benefit. New technologies, medicines, medical devices, films, and businesses all contribute to a better quality of life, as well as economic growth.

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Crystal Everson, J.D.

About the Author

Crystal Everson, J.D.

Crystal Everson was admitted to the state bar of New York and has since retired from the practice of law. She holds a Ju… Read more