Intellectual Property FAQs



What is an invention?

An invention is something that is a combination of existing elements that is both new and non-obvious. New means the parts have not been put together in that way before. Non-obvious means that someone else would not have been able to find published literature that would have suggested putting the parts together in that way prior to your invention and/or patent filing.

What is a patent?

A patent is a limited monopoly offed by the government that prohibits anyone else from making, using, or selling something you have invented. The tradeoff is that you must provide full and complete details on how your invention works to be granted that monopoly by the government.

A patent does not give you the right to make, use, or sell your own invention, merely to prevent others from doing so. This is because your invention may include parts that are themselves the subject of patents to others.

Who can apply for a patent?

An individual inventor or a company can apply for a patent. In some cases, an individual inventor may have an obligation to assign ownership to a company.

What can I do with a patent?

A patent is a property right that allows you to exclude others from making, using, or selling something you have invented. It can be sold, licensed, or held.

When can a patent be applied for?

A patent can be applied for in the United States up to one year after the invention has been publicly disclosed or offered for sale. In many foreign countries, a public disclosure prevents you from being able to apply for a patent unless the filing was prior to the disclosure.

What are the different types of patents?

Three types of patents exist – utility, design, and plant patents. Each type of patent provides protection over a different aspect of invention.

Utility Patents may be granted for any new and useful process, machine, product, or composition.

Design Patents may be granted for new and original ornamental features of an invention.

Plant Patents may be granted for any who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

Where can I learn more about the patent process?

Visit the USPTO website to learn more about the US patent process.



What is a trademark?

In the United States, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol and/or design that identifies products or services of a particular source. Often the term “service mark” is used to describe trademarks covering services.

Who can apply for a trademark?

The owner of a trademark may apply for the registration of their mark. In order for a trademark to be registrable, it must be unique and not likely to cause confusion with the mark of another.

Where can I learn more about trademarks?

Visit the USPTO website to learn more about trademarks and the registration process.



What is a trade secret?

A trade secret is information or a compilation of information used in business that provides a competitive and/or economic advantage over businesses that do not know or use the information or compilation of information.

How does one get a trade secret?

Different than the other forms of intellectual property requiring a formal filing, a trade secret is created by the maintenance of its confidentiality and secrecy. Protection only extends to unauthorized disclosure and use.

What is the relationship between a patent and a trade secret protection?

Trade secrets are often seen as the complement to patent protection. Patents require disclosure to the public in exchange for the right to exclude. The right to exclude is of limited duration. Trade secrets, on the other hand, derive value from not being known and can extend in perpetuity as long as confidentiality and secrecy are maintained.



What is a copyright?

A copyright is the exclusive right given to the author of an original work that is fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

Do I have to register my copyright to be protected?

No. Registration is voluntary, but registration brings additional legal rights to prohibit others from using your copyrighted work.

Where can I learn more about copyrights?

Visit to learn more about copyrights and the process for filing for protection.


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