Overview of Patents and Intellectual Property

Introduction to the four basic types of intellectual property (IP)

Patent protection is one aspect of a broad spectrum of rights available to inventors, artists, computer programmers, businesses, etc. to protect their intellectual property. The types of intellectual property (“IP”) include:

  • Patents
  • Trademarks
  • Copyrights
  • Trade secrets

More than one type of IP may be used to protect a product

One or more types of intellectual property rights may be implemented to protect the invention, work, product or service of the inventor, artist, etc.

1.  Patents

Patents provide its owners with the right to exclude others such as competitors from making, using, selling, offering for sale and importing an invention into the United States. In theory, since patents reduce competition, patents allow products to be sold at higher prices. However, this period of exclusivity or period in which the inventor may charge a higher price for his/her product or service is for a limited period of time since patents are monopolistic in nature, and the United States has a general public policy against monopolies. Generally, the term of patent protection for newly filed patent applications is twenty (20) years upon filing. Regardless of the strong anti-monopolistic policy in the United States, patent laws were enacted for the benefit of society by providing an incentive for inventors and companies to invest in research and development and to develop better products and services.

Three types of inventions may be protected by a patent, specifically, utility inventions, design inventions and plant inventions. Utility patents provide protection for functional inventions, such as a photocopier. Design patents provide protection for ornamental aspects of a product (e.g., shape, pattern, etc.). Plant patents provide protection for asexually reproducible plants.

The other types of IP may protect different aspect of the product or service in contrast to patents.

2.  Trademarks

Trademark rights protect the goodwill that consumers have come to expect when they encounter your trademark. Unlike patents, trademark rights may be perpetual.

3.  Copyrights

Copyrights protect works of writers, photographers, companies, etc. to the extent that the work is original to the author of the work and the work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression (e.g., saved to a hard drive, written, drawn on canvas, etc.). Similar to patents, copyrights inure to the benefit of its owners for a limited period of timealbeit for a longer period of time compared to patents.

4.  Trade Secrets

Trade secrets protect valuable secret information. Similar to trademarks, trade secret protection may extend perpetually.

Example of IP protection strategy

The various types of IP rights may be individually and collectively employed to protect different aspects of the product or service. For example, the functional features of a product may be protected via a patent. The name of the product may be protected as a trademark. The owner’s manual for the product may be protected by a copyright. Any type of in-house secret information relating to the product may be protected as a trade secret. An effective intellectual property strategy may utilize one or more forms of intellectual property rights to give its owner a competitive advantage over competitors in the marketplace.

I invite you to contact me with your patent questions at (949) 433-0900 or James@OCPatentLawyer.com. Please feel free to forward this article to your friends. As an Orange County Patent Lawyer, I serve Orange County, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and surrounding cities.

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James Yang is an Orange County patent lawyer and welcomes potential clients throughout California including Orange County, Riverside County, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Ana, Irvine, Orange, Anaheim, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Tustin, Brea, Fullerton, Buena Park, Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, Laguna Niguel, Stanton, San Clemente, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Cypress, Laguna Beach, Coto de Caza, Costa Mesa, Aliso Viejo, Ladera Ranch, Dana Point and Foothill Ranch.