What is Intellectual Property and What Kind Do I Need?


The following is a transcript of Episode 1 from the "Patenting from Inventors" Podcast.

You may have heard the terms: intellectual property, patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret thrown around but don’t have a good understanding of the differences, and you may not even know which one applies to what you're doing. All you know is that you have something, or you thought of something that you don’t want anyone else to steal. This first episode (of the Patenting for Inventors Podcast) is going to be an overview of the four main types of intellectual property, and I give examples of each, so you have a better idea of which one you might need. Your invention or product may fall into just one type of intellectual property, or it could fall under two, three or all four types.

What is intellectual property? Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind that can be protected by law. There are four main types: copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets, and I’m going to go through a very basic overview of each of these.

Copyrights are the first area I’m going to go over. Copyrights are meant to protect original and creative expressions. The most common things that you might get a copyright for are music, paintings, books, lyrics, movies, dance choreography, and product manuals. It does not cover the underlying ideas. Two movies can have be about the same idea, but if there are entirely different scripts, then you aren’t prevented from making a movie about the same general idea. Also, you can’t copyright facts. For example, the phonebook, even though it is book, is not copyrightable because it is just facts of names and phone numbers. There has to be something original and creative for you to have copyright protection for your work. It also has to be in some physical form, so even though I said dance choreography can be copyrighted, there is only copyright protection if it has been recorded in some physical medium such as on video or written in dance notation. So if you have thought of something that fits into one of these categories, you are probably interested in copyrights. Copyrights today generally last the life of the creator, plus 70 years. So once the creator dies, for the next 70 years, the heirs to the author can continue to collect royalties.