Intellectual Property – The 3 Branches: Copyrights, Patents & Trademarks

When you hear the phrase intellectual property, what do you think of? How can something that exists in your mind be considered property? Are your ideas your property similar to that of your house or car?

Simply put, no, your ideas are not something you can solely own. After all, if ideas were never shared in the marketplace, where would we be? Imagine if Bill Gates had never shared his ideas about the new BASIC programming language that he and Paul Allen developed…would Microsoft exist? How would that have impacted our world today? Let’s take it back even further: what would life be like if Louis Pasteur had never shared his ideas about heat treatment, what we now call pasteurization? The sharing of ideas has brought us to where we are, good and bad.

So, what is intellectual property?

Intellectual property is those ideas fixed in a form. That is, it is NOT the idea itself but rather how it’s presented. It’s also the laws set up to register, manage and govern those presentation of ideas. That can be a bit hard to wrap your mind around so let’s look at some examples from the three branches of intellectual property: copyrights, patents and trademarks.


Copyrights can be obtained for things of an artistic nature. This includes, of course, poetry, films, sculptures, music, fiction, etc. But can also include things that may not necessarily seem “artistic” in the general sense of the word. Copyrights can also be obtained for advertising copy, games, software programs and blueprints, to name just a few.


Patents are protection for inventions as well as significant improvements to already existing inventions. Inventions are mostly thought of as things like Edison’s electric lamp or phonograph. There are three distinct sections within the patent realm – utility, design and plant. Utility patents protect the invention in its utilitarian sense (i.e. how it functions and how it’s used) whereas design patents protect the invention in its ornamental appearance. Let’s go back to Edison for an example: he obtained a utility patent for his electric lamp as well as a design patent for the look/design of the electric lamp.


Trademarks can be names of products or services, logos, slogans, packaging and even sounds and smells. In essence, a trademark can be almost anything that is used to identify a particular product or service. Registering a trademark grants the owner exclusive rights to the mark within the specified industry. Of course, it’s necessary to research the mark comprehensively prior to filing to ensure that there is no possibility of infringing upon another party.


In a nutshell, those are the three branches of intellectual property. The free flowing of ideas has been and will continue to be important to our world development. Of course, protecting those ideas of yours, whatever form they take, can be just as important. Would Bill Gates be the richest person in the world if he had not secured all of his intellectual property rights?

Let your ideas flow…but be sure to protect your intellectual property!

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