What is Intellectual Property?

By Haim Factor Friday, December 3, 2010

Very simply put, intellectual property (IP) in the context of a business or even personal matters has the same significance as physical property, whether it is real estate, a vehicle, or a piece of equipment. If you are an intellectual property owner, you should protect your rights.

While most people instinctively know how to lock their car or build a fence around their plot of land, not everyone knows whether and/or how to protect his IP. This multi-part blog series is designed to:  help define IP, give you a better understanding of patents,  introduce some common patent procedures, and provide you with some overall resources regarding patents and patenting.

How is IP defined?

Just like other kinds of property, intellectual property needs to be protected from unauthorized use.  The first step is to define your IP. In the US, there are four definitions and ways to protect different types of intellectual property:

  • PATENTS provide rights for up to 20 years for inventions in three broad categories:

Utility patents protect useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter. Some examples: fiber optics, computer hardware, medications.

Design patents guard the unauthorized use of new, original, and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture. The look of an athletic shoe, a bicycle helmet, the Star Wars characters are all protected by design patents.

Plant patents are the way we protect invented or discovered asexually reproduced plant varieties. Hybrid tea roses, Silver Queen corn, Better Boy tomatoes are all types of plant patents.

  • TRADEMARKS protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services. Trademarks, unlike patents, can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in business. The roar of the MGM lion, the pink of the Owens-Corning insulation, and the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle are familiar trademarks.
  • COPYRIGHTS protect works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed. The Library of Congress registers copyrights which last the life of the author plus 50 years. Gone With The Wind (the book and the film), Beatles recordings, and video games are all works that are copyrighted.
  • TRADE SECRETS are information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors. The formula for Coca-Cola is the most famous trade secret.

A good overview of IP policies can be found at: https://www.uspto.gov/ip-policy

*Haim Factor is a registered USPTO Patent Agent with nearly a decade of experience in patent drafting, prosecution, and overall IP strategies. His clients take advantage of his rich experience of over 25 years in business development of a wide array of B2B and B2C products and his experience with intellectual property protection both within the US and internationally.


He can be contacted at: haim.factor@1st-tech-ideas.com and at 302.200.1424.

*Disclaimer*: Harvard Business Services, Inc. is neither a law firm nor an accounting firm and, even in cases where the author is an attorney, or a tax professional, nothing in this article constitutes legal or tax advice. This article provides general commentary on, and analysis of, the subject addressed. We strongly advise that you consult an attorney or tax professional to receive legal or tax guidance tailored to your specific circumstances. Any action taken or not taken based on this article is at your own risk. If an article cites or provides a link to third-party sources or websites, Harvard Business Services, Inc. is not responsible for and makes no representations regarding such source’s content or accuracy. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Harvard Business Services, Inc.

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