I throw the term “intellectual property” around quite a bit, but non-lawyers may not be quite as familiar with the term. Let me explain what intellectual property is and the four main types of intellectual property.

“Intellectual property” refers to creations of the mind – things that can be bought or sold and have economic value but are not physical items you can touch. (Accountants call them “intangible assets,” which are basically the same thing for our purposes.) While there may be more types of intellectual property that I’m not thinking about, they mostly come in four flavors – copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.

Copyrights protect creative expression – books, movies, music, art, etc. Since the point is to protect the products of your creative genius, only the creative aspect gets protection – for example, a book’s copyright will not protect the facts and ideas within the book, but it will protect the language used to express and explain those ideas. In the same way, a copyright for artwork created from an underlying image will only get protection for the elements that were added to the image (but if the original image has a copyright, it’s still protected under its own copyright).

Trademarks protect your brand in the marketplace. Logos, company names, product names, and slogans are all things that can be protected under trademark law. The idea here is to ensure buyers know who they’re buying from, and sellers can build a reputation around their brand so people want to buy from them. Essentially, anything you use to identify yourself in the marketplace can potentially get trademark protection.

Patents cover things of a more scientific nature – processes, formulas, inventions and the like. It still has to be original to the inventor, so you can’t patent sliced bread, but if you come up with a machine that slices and dices in a way no one has thought of before, then you can patent it.

Trade secrets are just like they sound. These are company secrets that are kept under lock and key, like the Coca-Cola recipe. Trade secrets never expire; they stay protected until the secret gets out. Companies can get into serious trouble if they use underhanded means to discover their competitor’s trade secrets.

Of course, there’s much more to say about each of these intellectual property subsets, but that’s a basic overview of each one. If you’d like to learn more about intellectual property or have questions about your own, please feel free to contact me at kaway@kawaylaw.com.

Kelly Way Attorney pic and bio Kelley Way was born and raised in Walnut Creek, California. She graduated from UC Davis with a B.A. in English, followed by a Juris Doctorate. Kelley is a member of the California Bar and an aspiring writer of young adult fantasy novels.