Intellectual property is an umbrella term that refers to creations of the mind like inventions, stories, and designs. And although some state-level protections are available, intellectual property is primarily governed and protected by federal law. Here are four types of intellectual property that receive federal protection:

Patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Patents cover “technical inventions, such as chemical compositions like pharmaceutical drugs, electrical and mechanical processes , or machine designs that are new, unique, and usable in some type of industry.” They also cover computer hardware and software, which make up the bulk of patent applications, especially in this era of automation and smart technology. Depending on your invention, you can apply for two types of patents: a utility patent, which covers new processes or machines, or improvements on previous inventions, or a design patent, which covers an invention because of the way it looks, not what it does. Patents are valid for twenty (20) years after its filing.

Trademarks are also issued by the USPTO and cover “a word, phrase, design, sound, smell, or a combination that identifies your goods or services, distinguishes them from the goods or services of others, and indicates the source of your goods or services.” Having trademark protection allows you to protect your brand across the country and preventing competitors from confusing consumers about which company is selling a particular product. Trademarks are valid for as long as the mark is being used in commerce, provided that both periodic maintenance fees are paid and filings submitted in a timely manner.

Unlike patents and trademarks, copyrights are issued by the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. A copyright protects original works of art like literature, music, movies, paintings, and software programs, primarily by giving the holder the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute the work.

Finally, a lesser-known type of intellectual property is trade secrets. Like patents, trade secrets are often technical inventions, but the similarities end there. Trade secrets are not formally issued by the USPTO; they are protected by statutes (such as the Economic Espionage Act and the Defend Trade Secrets Act) that can be enforced in federal court. Moreover, as the name implies, trade secrets are not publicly disclosed. Indeed, they are valuable because they are not generally known. For example, Google did not patent or copyright aspects of their search algorithm, because they wanted to keep their computer code a trade secret.

The U.S. offers significant protections for intellectual property, but, as a result, applying for a patent, trademark, or copyright, or enforcing a trade secret is often a long and complex process. That is why the professionals at Kondori & Moorad, LLP are ready to help you protect your creativity, especially considering their decades of combined experience working at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.