There are various intellectual property considerations when an inventor or company is developing their intellectual property portfolio.  Just as there are various types of IP, there are also various types of protection strategies.  In this four-part IP 101 series of posts, we’ll break down some of the nuances of several types of IP to make sure we’re all speaking the same language.   

In this first installment, we present a broad overview of IP protection categories, and in subsequent installments, we get more into the nitty-gritty of each one.

Patents – There are three types of patents in the US: utility, design, and plant.  Patents are a government-granted monopoly giving the holder exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention.

                Utility patent – protects a new and non-obvious system (a “thing”) or a process or method for up to 20 years in the US.  Filing should be completed before public disclosure.  In the US, there is an absolute bar from filing for patent protection if public disclosure occurred more than one year prior.

                Design patent – protects the ornamental design of an item that may be covered for up to 15 years.  As with a utility patent, there is an absolute bar from filing for patent protection if public disclosure occurred more than one year prior.

                Plant patent - protects a distinct and new asexually reproduced variety of plant, either invented or discovered, for up to 20 years.

Copyright – protects an original, creative work such as literature, music, or art fixed in a tangible medium.  The duration of copyright protection is up to the life of the author plus 70 years.

Trademark – protects a distinctive source identifier of goods or services.  The duration for protection is for as long as the trademark is used, but the onus is on the trademark holder to police and prosecute potential infringers.

Trade Secrets – are valuable pieces of information protected from competitors with special security measures.  As trade secrets are valued for their secrecy and not disclosed publicly, trade secrets only remain protected for as long as they remain secret.

Trade Dress – protects a configuration of materials, shapes, designs, and/or colors that do not serve a function, or utility and that serve as a source identifier.  Trade dress must be registered with the USPTO, and serves to distinguish the source of a product to consumers. 

Next week, we’ll dive into more detail about patent rights, including considerations you should keep in mind when developing your intellectual property portfolio.