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Intellectual Property Types: Copyright, Trademark, Patent and License

Intellectual property (IP) refers to the preferential rights that are attached to intangible creations. A better explanation on IP is that it applies to the creations of the human mind, such as images, names, symbols, designs, artistic and literary works, and inventions used in commerce.

The protection of IP is essential for those who are business owners, artists, and innovators. As a matter of fact, it is very important for small startups. This is since IP can be something that is very valuable for a startup during the initial stages of the business.

But there isn’t just one type of Intellectual property. There are different ones – copyrights, patents, licenses, and trademarks that we will explore more in detail.

Intellectual Property Types: Do you know which one is applied to you?

Well, licenses, patents, trademarks, and copyrights are all separate forms of IP rights protection that are recognized by the U.S. Government and Law. Their distinctions can be complicated, in which there are times where a same service or product might involve more than one of these intellectual property rights.

Intellectual Property Types

But in all this mess, it is vital to understand the difference between them if you are figuring out on how to protect your company’s assets. The specific explanations shared below should give you a much more precise idea.

1. Trademark

Which brand do you prefer, Apple or Audi? Well, trademarks are phrases, designs or words that serve as “the brand” of a service or product of the company. A service or work can be registered as a trademark, which includes the things like labels, signatures, names, words, and even the host of any other marks or even the unification of all these details.

To explain it better, a trademark can represent:

  • The provider or manufacturer of the service or product(ex. Apple).
  • An element or feature of the service or product (ex. FaceTime).
  • The service or product itself (ex. iPhone).

A “service mark” is also a trademark that classifies a service rather than a tangible product.

A trademark that is registered gives the owner rights to prevent infringers from any unfair competition by utilizing the marks that are confusingly similar to theirs. Moreover, the trademarks can be born in two ways in the US:

  • By registering the trademark with the PTO, also known as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They would be known as the “registered” trademarks.
  • By automatically using the trademark in the market along with the service or product. This kind of trademark is called unregistered trademarks or “common law.”

Why register a trademark?

Even though there is no need to register a trademark to protect it, it is highly advised to do so. As doing so would give you additional protection and also provides the trademark with value. And since a registered trademark is a type of IP, you can easily assign it or license it to others.

Imagine you have a trademark for your business and have registered it with the government. You can now start doing business from it where you can sell your trademark for a specific value to other companies. Or you can also just license it to any third party, like a franchise, which would help you grow your business.

The idea here is simple, by letting another company use your trademark on the basis of a contract, you would be getting a part of the profits they make as per the contract. The profits can be 20% of what they earn or anything as per your arrangement. And with the gains that you make from this, you can eventually use it to build on the equity of your business. And this, in turn, could be reinvested into developing your company, hence making your company grow.

How to register your trademark?

For registering a trademark in the US, you need to visit the PTO website at for online registration. And registering it would bring you many benefits which includes using the trademark on the services and goods in the whole nation. On the other hand, the common law trademarks offer rights for the owner to use it only in some regions of the country.

How long does the trademark

As soon as a trademark gets registered, it can last for as long as ten years depending on the time period you choose when registering it. Moreover, it is vital to continue using the trademark with the services and goods that you had it registered for. This is so that the government doesn’t take any actions to remove it in the future.

How to protect the trademark?

You can protect your trademarks as per the common law of the trademarks by using the ℠ or ™ symbols. And for registered trademarks, you can use the ® symbol. This would let the others know that the trademark is in use. Also, it allows you to implement your trademark rights if someone misuses it or copies it.

You should make sure that everyone attached to your business, even the customers, distributors, and licensees are reminded regularly about the right usage of the trademark.

It is advised to take suitable action when you find out about any inappropriate use of your trademark. Moreover, if you encounter a situation like this, it is recommended to seek the advice of a professional to help you to understand things better. This person would also be able to let you know all about the options that you have to take care of the matter.

2. Copyright

With the help of a copyright, a person can easily protect their creative expressions like their videos, music, or writing. The copyright protects the rights of “authors” and their original creative works. There is no importance for the work having only an aesthetic value. Things that can be protected by the copyright law are:

  • Performances
  • Cable programmes
  • Television and Radio broadcasts
  • Films
  • Sound recordings
  • Published editions of the above works
  • Artistic works (e.g., paintings, photographs)
  • Musical works (e.g., melodies)
  • Dramatic works (e.g.,. scripts for films and dramas)
  • Literary works (e.g., written works, source codes of computer programs)

What are the benefits of a copyright?

The main benefit of a copyrighted work is that no one can copy it or use it without the author’s permission. Other than that, the author also has the exclusive right to:

  • Create copied works from the original work (for example, translations, adaptations, summaries, updates, and revisions).
  • Reproduce (copy or print), display, perform, publish, film and/or record the creative content.

Moreover, the particular rights that the owner of the copyright enjoys depend entirely on the type of work that they have created. In short, the author who has the copyright of the work they produced gets an exclusive bundle of rights that allows the person to have control over what they have created.

How to register the copyright?

The copyrighted works can be registered in the USA with the U.S. Copyright Office, and you can learn more about it at Even though registration is not something that is important in the USA, it is highly advised to have it done since it offers legal benefits to the author.

The most prominent benefit for this is the ability to enforce the copyright against infringers in court. For the works that are copyrighted (both unregistered and registered), you can put the © symbol on the word for providing notice that the author acknowledges the craft to be guarded by copyright.

How long can the copyright last?

As soon as a work is fixed into a tangible form, copyright protection comes into play automatically. A work is “fixed” in a tangible medium of expression when its represented in a record or copy, under or by the authority of the author. In short, it is when an author posts their work in public with their name and the copyright symbol on it.

The term of the copyright protection is eligible for which is the same as the person’s life plus 70 years. And if the copyright belongs to a company, it is valid for about 95 years from the first day the work becomes public.

How to protect the copyright?

The symbol “©” is very important for the protection of the copyright. It acts as a claim by the owner that the copyright on the work exists and does not allow anyone to take it and misuse it. This means that if there is any case of infringement and you are the one who used the work of an author whose work was without a copyright symbol “©,” you may win the case.

Moreover, if there is a copyright symbol on your work that was copied by someone else, the person would undergo legal measures. And in a case like this, they may get an order passed that does not allow infringing of your work again, get the profits of the infringer and damage for the loss caused by the infringer.

3. Patents

A patent can be achieved for concepts or ideas that are non-obvious and novel, and they primarily include the inventions like the processes or products. In short, patents secure the rights of inventors. It is a 20-year private property right that is given by the PTO for some invention.

If you have a patent for something that you invented, it will exclude others from using, making or selling it. As soon as it is issued, you would be able to take legal actions against anyone who violates your rights. And if you do not act on this, the court can declare that your patent is unenforceable and “abandoned.”

Many of the patents are the utility patent whose work is to protect the useful and new composition of matter, article of manufacture, machine, process, or any useful and new improvement thereof. It depends on the PTO for deciding if your invention is worth the patent when you apply for it with them.

Other than this, there are many other types of patents that are obtained by companies, and they include:

  • Plant patents that guard discovered or invented asexually reproduced plants that are distinct and new;
  • Business method patents that secure the new systems of conducting business. This includes those procedures like the ones in e-commerce, tax compliance, and banking; and
  • Design patents that are related to the “new, ornamental and original design applied to or Incorporated in an Article of Manufacture” not changing the function of the article.

Why register for a patent?

With the patent protection, you would be able to avoid the unauthorized imports, sales, use, or manufacture of the invention by you. Although, it is entirely your wish if you want to license your invention to third parties for profits or even sell it to someone else.

How to register the patent?

For obtaining a US patent, you would need to apply with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. You can visit them at

How long can the patent last?

In the US, the patent protection is provided for up to seventeen years from the date of the grant, or even 20 years from the filing date, whichever expires later. Nonetheless, the patent owner is obliged to pay the maintenance charges to hold the patent and keeping it valid.

How to protect the patent?

If you find out that your registered patent has been infringed, you can take legal actions against the person or company doing so.

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4. Licenses

A license is something like a contract that is used to transfer the IP rights from one owner of the rights to a third party who would like to use it. The owner is called the licensor, and the third party person is called the licensee.

The license can be:

  • Exclusive – where rights are granted to just one licensee.
  • Non-exclusive – where the rights are granted to multiple licensees.

In a situation like this, the licensee would pay the licensor to use the IP rights. And the authority is mostly based on a percentage of revenue that the licensee makes from the sale of the items that use the licensed IP rights.

Licenses are a valuable asset for a business and can help you earn via royalties. And for the licensee, it can help them sell things into the market with a famous brand name on the products.

Moreover, the licenses are for a fixed term, mostly three years and it has to be renewed by the parties if they want to extend the contract for a more extended time period. Furthermore, the renewal usually implied that the licensee pays the licensor the minimum royalties.

Can a Service or Product Have Multiple Forms of IP?

Now that you are clear with what the difference is between the trademarks, copyright, patents, and licenses, did you know that a service or product can have multiple forms of IP?

Let us take an example of a mobile that features (a camera) and uses technology (data encryption) that has been patented. The phone would be under a brand name that is a registered trademark. The feel and look of the phone might be subjected to a copyright registration. And if the manufacturer of the phone has not created all these IPs, then he might have Licensed it from some of the other IPs.


But before all this happens you need to have a company. And if you have decided on your idea and your business plan, contact IncParadise to help you register your business in the US today and have it incorporated within no time.

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