Intellectual Property 101: Types & Uses

Intellectual Property 101: Types & Uses

In today’s landscape, where technology is heavily patented, safeguarding your innovations becomes paramount to grant your company the best chance at success. For entrepreneurs and biotech startups, creating or utilizing intellectual property is inevitable.

By securing your intellectual property (IP), you establish a strong defense against any potential legal battles from another company claiming rights to your idea and suing you for its use. This protection is also helpful when you’re seeking financial backing.

In this blog post, we will delve into the different types of IP you can apply for and secure that will help protect your innovations and ensure the long-term viability of your business. That means we will be focusing on patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Furthermore, we will review the roles played by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the US Copyright Office in overseeing these forms of protection.

Readers can expect to gain a clear understanding of patent types, the ideas that require safeguarding, the steps involved in obtaining protection, and how to conduct thorough research to avoid potential legal entanglements.

Additionally, we will highlight the invaluable guidance an experienced IP lawyer can offer in navigating the intricate landscape of intellectual property, supporting your technological refinement and business expansion endeavors.

With a deeper understanding of intellectual property types, you will be better-equipped to secure your innovations and pave the way for a successful and sustainable venture in the dynamic world of scientific innovation.

Learn how to protect your intellectual property and read about some of the common IP strategies to employ.


Patents are a type of intellectual property that grants inventors property rights over their inventions, which ensures that other people or companies can’t claim these new products or technologies as their own. The greatest risk of not patenting your invention is that someone else will do so first, making it difficult or impossible for you to use it as you intended.

Patents play a crucial role in providing inventors with property rights over their groundbreaking inventions, safeguarding them from unauthorized claims by other individuals or companies. By granting exclusive rights, patents prevent others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the patented invention within the United States or importing it into the country.

It is essential to recognize that a patent primarily focuses on excluding others from practicing the protected technology rather than granting the inventor the affirmative right to practice it themselves, especially when it overlaps with broader patents owned by others. To define the inventor's protectable creation accurately, patent claims serve as the legal representation of the invention within the patent application.

In the United States, there are three distinct types of patents, each applicable to different aspects of a product. These include:

  • Utility patents: Utility patents encompass any novel technology or significant improvements to existing products, ranging from biological compounds and pharmaceuticals to devices and manufacturing processes.
  • Design patents: Design patents, on the other hand, cover the visual or ornamental design elements of a product, allowing inventors to claim rights over unique visual elements that may be incorporated into future products.
  • Plant patents: Plant patents apply to newly created plants through breeding or human efforts, granting the inventor the ability to exclude others from asexually reproducing, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the plant.

To be eligible for a patent, the invention must meet specific criteria:

  • Patentable subject matter: The invention has to be a process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or improvement. It cannot be a natural phenomenon, mental process, or abstract intellectual concept.
  • Utility: The invention has to be useful.
  • Novelty: The invention must be novel.
  • Non-obviousness: The invention must be sufficiently creative and non-obvious, not something that is readily apparent to a person of “ordinary skill” in the relevant field.
  • Enablement: The patent application must contain a written description of the invention, including the manner and process of making and using it, so that a person skilled in that field can make and use the invention.

Obtaining a patent can be a rigorous, expensive, and time-consuming process, but you don’t have to do it alone. While it does add to the cost of applying, enlisting the expertise of a skilled patent attorney can help ensure that no essential steps are overlooked and avoid potential issues in the future.

To maintain a one-year grace period for filing a patent application after self-publishing the invention, inventors must exercise caution. However, it is always safer to file a patent application before publishing to secure exclusive rights effectively.

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What Is the United States Patent & Trademark Office?

The USPTO is the federal agency in charge of administering the patent system on behalf of the U.S. government. It employs patent examiners that have expertise in various technical fields who can appraise patent applications. In addition to overseeing patents, the agency also issues federal trademark registrations.

Its primary mission is to promote and protect intellectual property rights by ensuring that inventors and businesses have exclusive rights over their innovations and distinctive brands. Generally speaking, the USPTO examines an application for novelty, non-obviousness, and utility, as well as ensuring that the invention is adequately described and enabled in the application.

Once a patent is granted, the agency issues a patent certificate, providing the inventor with the legal protection and right to exclude others from using, making, selling, or importing the patented invention for a limited period, typically 20 years from the filing date (for utility patents) and 15 years for design patents.


Trademarks are distinctive marks associated with your product or company, defined by the USPTO as a "word, phrase, design, or combination" that sets your goods or services apart from others. They commonly take the form of words, phrases, logos, or symbols prominently displayed on your product.

Unlike patents, trademark registration involves proving prior usage of the mark. It's crucial to check for existing uses before adopting a design, symbol, or catchphrase to avoid conflicts.

By registering your trademark, you gain exclusive protection, preventing others from using it. Similar to patents, you must apply for trademark registration, and there is an associated application fee.

Safeguarding your trademarks establishes brand identity and prevents unauthorized use, ensuring your unique image and reputation remain intact.

What Is Trademark Registration?

Trademark registration is the process of legally protecting a trademark. The process involves filing an application with the USPTO (or whichever government authority is responsible for trademark registrations in your country/region). 

The application requires providing detailed information about the trademark, including the type of mark, the goods or services it will be associated with, and proof of actual usage or a declaration of intent to use the mark in commerce.

During the registration process, the trademark application undergoes an examination to determine if it meets the necessary legal requirements, such as distinctiveness and non-conflict with existing trademarks. If the application is approved and no objections or oppositions are raised, the mark is registered, and the owner receives a certificate confirming their exclusive rights to use the trademark.

Trademark registration provides several significant benefits, including:

  • Exclusive rights: Registering a trademark grants the owner the exclusive right to use the mark in connection with the specified goods or services, preventing others from using a similar mark that could cause confusion among consumers.
  • Nationwide protection: Trademark registration provides protection throughout the country where it is registered, giving the owner broader rights and legal remedies to enforce their trademark against infringers.
  • Public notice: Registered trademarks are published in the official register, providing public notice of the owner's claim to the mark and deterring others from using similar marks.
  • Legal protection: Trademark registration strengthens the owner's position in case of trademark infringement, making it easier to pursue legal action and claim damages from infringing parties.
  • International protection: For businesses operating globally, there are mechanisms to extend trademark protection to other countries through international treaties and agreements.

Trademark registration is not mandatory. Common law rights may still be acquired by using a mark in commerce. Still, registration significantly enhances the legal protection and recognition of the mark’s ownership and rights.


Copyright is a legal protection granted to original works of authorship that have been tangibly expressed, such as writings, music, works of art, and even software.

Once a work is copyrighted, the copyright holder has exclusive rights to distribute, reproduce, display, perform, and modify the work. This means that others cannot use the copyrighted work without the owner’s permission, and the copyright owner has the right to enforce their rights through legal action if necessary.

In the United States, copyright protection is automatically granted to a work as soon as it is created and fixed in a tangible form, such as writing it down or saving it on a computer. Although registration with the US Copyright Office is not required for protection, it provides several significant advantages and enhances the protection copyrights offer.

Registering copyright creates a public record of the ownership and the creation date, which can be important in disputes or infringement claims. Moreover, copyright registration is necessary before bringing a lawsuit for copyright infringement, and it allows the copyright owner to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees in court.

The process of applying for copyright registration is relatively straightforward. It involves completing an application, paying a fee, and submitting a copy of the registered work. The US Copyright Office reviews the application for completeness and compliance with legal requirements, and once approved, the copyright registration is granted.

The copyright term typically lasts for the author’s life plus 70 years, or for works created by multiple authors or corporate entities, it can extend to 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.

Copyright infringement is a severe legal offense that can result in significant penalties and damages. To protect creative works, inventors should consider securing copyrights for their original works and ensuring they do not infringe on the rights of other copyright owners.

By doing so, they can safeguard their intellectual property rights and maintain control over the use and distribution of their creations.

What Is the US Copyright Office?

The United States Copyright Office is a federal agency under the US Library of Congress responsible for administering and managing copyright-related matters in the United States. 

Its primary function is to oversee the registration and recordkeeping of copyright claims, ensuring proper documentation and protection of creative works.

The Copyright Office plays a central role in the copyright system, allowing creators to register their original works and obtain additional legal protections. Registering a copyright with the agency offers several significant advantages:

  • Public record: Registering creates a public record of the ownership and the work's creation date. This record serves as evidence of the copyright’s validity. It can be used in legal proceedings for disputes or infringement claims.
  • Prerequisite for lawsuits: The work must be registered with the Copyright Office before filing a copyright infringement lawsuit. Registration is typically required to pursue legal remedies and claim statutory damages and attorney’s fees in infringement cases.
  • Protection against importation of infringing copies: Copyright registration is necessary to prevent the importation of infringing copies of the work into the United States.
  • Global protections: Copyright registration can be used as evidence of ownership in other countries through various international treaties and agreements.

The Copyright Office also provides valuable resources and information to the public about copyright law, registration procedures, and other copyright-related topics. Their website offers guidance on registering copyright, frequently asked questions, copyright law circulars, and other helpful materials.

Trade secrets

Trade secrets are a distinct form of intellectual property that differs from patents and copyrights. They encompass confidential information or proprietary details about a company or its products, which are safeguarded from public disclosure. Trade secrets are typically shared only with employees or specific subgroups within the organization who need access to the information for legitimate business purposes.

Examples of trade secrets include closely guarded food formulas, proprietary algorithms, manufacturing processes, customer lists, and other valuable business data. These secrets may not fit the criteria for copyright or patent protection, making trade secret protection an important alternative for preserving their confidentiality.

To legally protect trade secrets, companies often utilize non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and confidentiality agreements. These agreements bind employees and other parties to maintain the confidentiality of the information and refrain from disclosing or using it for unauthorized purposes.

Additionally, companies can implement internal policies and training programs to educate employees on the importance of maintaining secrecy and delineating what information should and should not be shared.

Diligent information management plays a crucial role in ensuring that trade secrets remain secure. Companies must establish robust security measures, such as limited access controls, encryption, and password protection, to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information. Regular audits and periodic reviews help identify potential vulnerabilities and reinforce protection.

Unlike patents or copyrights, trade secrets do not have a fixed term of protection. As long as the information remains confidential and undisclosed, trade secret protection persists indefinitely. However, if the secret is inadvertently or unlawfully disclosed, its status as a trade secret may be compromised, and legal recourse might be limited.

Is There a Trade Secrets Policy in the US?

Yes, there is a policy on trade secrets that protects businesses. While protection is primarily governed by state law in the U.S., there is also a federal law known as the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), which was enacted in 2016.

This policy aims to provide a legal framework for businesses to safeguard valuable and proprietary information that may not be eligible for patent, copyright, or trademark protection. It promotes innovation and economic growth by encouraging companies to invest in research and development without having to disclose their proprietary information to the public.

Under the DTSA and state trade secret laws, businesses can pursue legal action against individuals or entities that misappropriate or disclose trade secrets without authorization. To qualify for protection, businesses must take reasonable measures to keep the information confidential, such as implementing access controls, using confidentiality agreements (non-disclosure agreements or NDAs), and restricting dissemination within the organization.

The policy on trade secrets also emphasizes the importance of promoting a fair and competitive marketplace. It discourages unfair business practices, such as the theft of trade secrets, and provides legal remedies to businesses whose trade secrets have been misappropriated.

However, it's important to note that trade secret protection is not absolute, and businesses must be proactive in protecting their confidential information. Once a trade secret is publicly disclosed or becomes generally known, it may lose its protected status. Therefore, companies must continuously evaluate their security measures and enforce contractual obligations to maintain the secrecy of their trade secrets.

Since trade secret laws can vary from state to state, we encourage businesses to consult with legal professionals familiar with trade secret law to ensure proper protection and enforcement of their valuable confidential information.

Protect Your Ideas & Hard Work

In summary, intellectual property (IP) refers to intangible assets of the human mind that have value and are legally protected. The tangible creations that result can include inventions, innovations, artistic works, brand names, logos, and proprietary information.

IP protection grants exclusive rights to the creators or owners, allowing them to control the use, distribution, and commercial exploitation of their creations.

The main types of IP are patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, but there are additional types that offer inventors and creators protection.

It is critical that intellectual property is protected in the early-stages, as it plays a crucial role in fostering innovation, encouraging creativity, and promoting economic growth by providing incentives for individuals and businesses to invest in research, development, and artistic endeavors.

Formulating a well-defined IP strategy is essential to maximize the value of intellectual property in the life sciences industry, and collaborating with an experienced patent attorney can be crucial to understanding IP rights, protecting IP assets, and ensuring compliance with IP law.

Though the expenses may be high, patent attorneys and law firms offer a diverse range of services. From patent protection to trademark applications, they provide valuable legal guidance, including assessing the likelihood of infringement risks to steer clear of potential disputes. Their expertise ensures that businesses can navigate the complex landscape of IP with confidence and protection.

Leasing Can Help You Develop IP & Accelerate Research

Leasing lab equipment is an excellent option for researchers who need to develop intellectual property (IP) after it has been protected and accelerate their research efforts. This is clear in several ways:

  • Flexibility and cost-effectiveness: Leasing lab equipment provides flexibility in accessing state-of-the-art tools without the significant upfront investment of purchasing the equipment outright. This allows businesses to allocate their financial resources strategically, directing them toward other critical aspects of their operations, such as research and development.
  • Access to advanced technology: Leasing enables researchers to access cutting-edge lab equipment that might otherwise be financially prohibitive. Having access to advanced technology can significantly enhance research capabilities, leading to more innovative and groundbreaking discoveries.
  • Accelerated research timelines: Leasing lab equipment can expedite research projects by eliminating equipment procurement and installation delays. Researchers can quickly start their experiments and maintain continuous progress, accelerating the timeline for generating valuable data and results.
  • Capacity scaling: Leasing lab equipment allows businesses to scale their research capacity based on current project demands. Additional equipment can be leased during peak research periods to meet the increased workload, while scaling down during slower periods helps optimize costs.
  • Exploration of multiple technologies: Leasing offers the opportunity to explore various lab equipment and technologies before committing to a long-term investment. Researchers can evaluate the performance and suitability of different instruments, ensuring they choose the most appropriate tools for their specific research needs.
  • Collaborative research: Leasing equipment can facilitate collaborative research projects, enabling researchers from different institutions or industries to access shared resources, fostering cross-disciplinary collaboration and knowledge exchange.
  • Innovation and IP development: Access to sophisticated lab equipment can inspire and empower researchers to explore new ideas and pursue innovative projects. The availability of advanced technology can lead to the development of novel processes, products, or methodologies, thereby contributing to expanding a company's IP portfolio.
  • Prototyping and proof of concept: Leasing equipment is advantageous for prototyping and proof-of-concept studies. Researchers can test their ideas on a smaller scale before significantly investing in large-scale equipment or production.

Work with Excedr today to lease the equipment and instrumentation you need to accelerate R&D, preserve capital, and grow your business.