What Is Intellectual Property?

When a person thinks of a creative idea, that idea might be considered intellectual property. Generally speaking, there are two types of intellectual property. Industrial property includes geographical indications, trademarks, industrial designs, and invention patents. Copyright includes items like artistic works, architectural design, literary works, films, and music.

Geographical Indications

Geographical indications for a product are associated with a specific geographical location. From that indication, consumers might automatically think of certain characteristics or a reputation from that area. One example of this would be the use of "Swiss" for watch components, which would indicate that the components were made in Switzerland. The use of geographical indications can change over time, such as in the case of Dijon mustard. While this mustard originated in Dijon, France, it has since become synonymous with a specific type of mustard rather than a marker of the origination point of that bottle of mustard.


The sign that identifies a good or service is a trademark. A trademark can be comprised of letters, words, numbers, symbols, drawings, and shapes. Unique packaging, such as the use of a special shaped box can qualify as a trademark. Holograms and other specially designed distinguishing features can be trademarks.

Industrial Design

Industrial design covers the aesthetic aspects of an invention. Jewelry, medical instruments, watches, electrical appliances, vehicles, textile designs, and luxury items are all types of industrial design. In order to qualify for protection, these items must be new or original. They should be non-functioning because industrial design doesn't cover the technical aspects of the design.


A person who creates something new can apply for a patent for that creation. There are three types of patents: design patents, plant patents, and utility patents. Each patent is used for a specific purpose. A design patent is used for ornamental designs of products. A utility patent is used for new inventions. A plant patent is used for the discovery or creation of a new, distinct asexually reproducible plant.

Copyrighted Works

Authors, writers, musicians, performers, poets, and other creative people have unique works that they don't want copied. Copyright refers to the protection of those items. Films, poems, sculptures, paintings, maps, technical drawings, blueprints, choreography, advertisements, reference materials, novels, plays, and architectural works are some items that can be copyrighted. This extends to radio programming and television programming.

The copyright holder has the option to prohibit or authorize how one's works are used. Copyright can cover how creative works are adapted, translated, broadcasted, reproduced, or performed in public. The copyright holder can use one's works exclusively or grant others the right to use the works on the terms he or she sets forth. Heirs and successors of copyright holders also have some basic rights.

Enjoying certain protections for your intellectual property requires the creator to take certain steps. Trademarks, for example, have to be registered. Seeking the help of an attorney experienced in protecting intellectual property can help creators to learn what they must do to protect the works of their mind.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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