What Is Intellectual Property and How Do I Protect It?

Intellectual property

Intellectual PropertyIntellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind. This includes inventions, discoveries, paintings, literary works, music, designs, symbols, names, and images (photographs, graphics, etc.). Basically anything you think up and can prove originality is IP, so it covers a lot.

Under the law, owners of IP are given certain exclusive rights called intellectual property (IP) rights. These rights include copyright, patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and more. IP is also considered a form of property, called intangible property.

Why Does Intellectual Property Need to Be Protected?

IP rights gives credit where credit is due. It allows for an environment where creativity and innovation can be encouraged and protected. By incentivizing people to come up with new ideas, progress becomes mutually beneficial for IP owners and society as a whole. Without it, I would be able to buy thousands of inexpensive bulk t-shirts with Under Armor’s trademark name and logo on them, and sell that at a high margin. Thankfully, their IP rights prevent anyone from doing this.

IP also plays a huge role in economic growth. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approximated in 2013 that IP contributed more than $5 trillion to the U.S. economy and supported employment for 18 million Americans. Economists say that nearly two-thirds of the value of America’s largest businesses can be attributed to intangible assets. With that much of a company’s assets being tied up in intangibles, they’ll want to be certain that their IP is protected.

How Do I Protect My Intellectual Property?

How you go about protecting your IP will depend on the type you have:


Patents are chiefly given to inventors to protect any new and useful product or process that they have created.

The three types of patents are:

  • Utility Patents: used to protect any process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, and its improvement thereof.
  • Design Patents: used to protect any new, original, or ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
  • Plant Patents: used to protect any new or distinct variety of plant and its reproduction.

Patenting your invention gives it a competitive advantage by preventing third parties from making, using, or selling your invention without your consent. The length of the patent will mainly hinge on the type of invention, as some patents will hold up longer than others.

Trademarks and Service Marks

Trademarks protect names, symbols, sounds, colors, words, or phrases that distinguish a product. They prevent third parties from selling your products under the same name or mark. Trademark law was also set up with the intention of preventing customer confusion. People need to know that the name on the box belongs to one company and not another. This is how companies build up their brand, and create customer loyalty. Service marks work in exactly the same way, but with the goal of protecting a service rather than a product.


Copyrights work to protect original works of authorship such as a piece of music, literature, software, a photograph, or a dramatic work. Once the work has been fixed in a tangible medium, copyright protection begins. By placing the copyright symbol (©) on the work, the author is expressing his or her wish to exercise control over the production, distribution, display, and performance of the work.

Copyright protection does not always need to be filed, but doing so makes it more enforceable during an infringement trial.

For more information on intellectual property, see our Protect Your Intellectual Property page.