FAQ | Intellectual Property Attorneys | Hollowell Patent Group


What are the different types of Intellectual Property?

Patents – protect new or improved inventions or innovations; (utility, plant, design)

Copyrights – protect the expression of ideas and concepts in a “fixed and tangible” medium

Trademarks – protect the public as to the source of goods and services

Trade Secrets – protect confidential information


The purpose of a patent is to protect a new or improved idea and inform the public of innovations that advance the arts and sciences. In exchange for the patent, the Inventor must make the invention public through publication of their patent and in return receives a limited term to exclude others from making, using, and selling the invention (w/o a license).

Patentable subject matter includes any useful process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter 35 U.S.C. § 101. Naturally occurring compositions are not patentable – inventive step is required, e.g., a genetically altered organism is patentable. Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980).

Patents are a property right granted to an inventor for new, useful and non-obvious inventions for a period of 20 years from the filing date of a patent application, and provide the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention without a license from the patent owner.

An invention must have practical utility; but does not have to be “commercially” useful. It must be novel and non-obvious.

Whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the U.S., or imports into the U.S. any patented invention during the term of the patent therefore infringes the patent.

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A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or logo that is used to brand, identify, and distinguish a product.

You can trademark any product or service that has distinctive character and is distinguishable from other products and services.

10 years, with 10-year renewal terms; but between the fifth and sixth year after the date of registration, the registrant must file an affidavit stating that the mark is still in use or the registration will be canceled.

Trademarks fall into one of five main categories: generic mark, descriptive mark, suggestive mark, fanciful, and arbitrary mark. These are listed from the weakest to the strongest with a generic and descriptive mark being weak and a fanciful and arbitrary mark being strong.

You can use “TM” without a USPTO registration, but you can only use the ® after the USPTO has registered the trademark.

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A copyright is legal protection of authorship for original works created in any “fixed and tangible medium” of expression such as in literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, sculptural or architectural works. Compilations and derivative works can also be protected by copyright.

You cannot copyright ideas, procedures, processes, methods of operation, concepts or discoveries.

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to make a copy of, display, perform and/or distribute the copyright work to the public. No one else has these rights without license from the owner. Important note – a work prepared by an employee provides no copyright protection to the employee. This is called a “work made for hire”.

A copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Copyrights exist from the moment a work is created but to enforce a copyright it must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Even without registration, the author of an original work can use the copyright symbol.

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Trade Secrets

Any product or process a company or individual keeps secret. The best known / unknown company trade secret is the formula for Coca-Cola.

Trade secrets can be used to protect any company process or product such as formulas, client lists, manufacturing process or anything that can be kept a secret and not reverse engineered.

As long as it is kept a secret!

Unlike patents, trademarks and copyrights, there is no place to register a trade secret. A trade secret must be kept by taking whatever “reasonable” steps are necessary to maintain the secret, such as releasing the information only to those on a need to know basis and with contracts in place to ensure confidentiality.

Trade secrets are enforced most often by confidentiality agreements or an infringement lawsuit under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

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This is not Legal Advice and should not be construed as an engagement or offer of legal advice. These are only sample Q&A related to patents and trademarks. Protection and enforcement of IP property rights is subject to the nuances of circumstance and complexity of the law.

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