Quick Reference of the Common Types of Intellectual Property Rights

“Intellectual property” or “IP” generally refers to exclusive rights granted to owners under U.S. intellectual property laws to a variety of intangible assets covering creations of the human mind.  Common types of IP rights include copyrights, trademarks, patents (utility and design patents) and trade secrets.

Type of Right

What it Protects

How to Obtain

Copyright Original works of authorship, including writings (including computer software) music (including any accompany words and/or music), and works of art (e.g., pictorial, graphic, and/or sculptural works) that have been tangibly expressed
  • Copyright exists immediately and automatically when the work is created, that is, when it is fixed in a tangible copy for the first time
  • A notice of copyright may be designated on the work of authorship by the following:
    • The symbol © (the letter “C” in a circle), or the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation “Corp.”;
    • The year of first publication of the work; and
    • The name of the copyright owner (e.g., Emory University)
  • No publication, registration or other action in the U.S. Copyright Office is required to secure copyright
Trademark Word, name, symbol, logo, image design, or any combination used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of a particular source from those of others
  • Rights can be established by registering in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (also referred to as “registered trademark”) or through actual use in the marketplace (also referred to as “unregistered trademark” or “common law” trademark)i
  • A trademark is designated by the following symbols:
    • ™ for a common law or unregistered trademark; and
    • ® for a registered trademark
Utility Patent Any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or compositions of matters, or any new useful improvement thereof – i.e., the way an item works and is used (the structure/function of an item)
  • Examples include: medical devices, methods of treatment, compounds, mechanical devices, and methods of manufacture
  • Most patents are utility patents
  • Rights can be established by a grant of a Utility Patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Officeii
Design Patent New, original, ornamental design of an article of manufacture – i.e., the way an item looks
  • Examples include: jewelry, furniture, beverage containers, and computer icons
  • Also referred to as “industrial design.”
  • Rights can be established by a grant of a Design Patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Officeiii
Trade Secret Any formula, pattern, device, instrument, or compilation of information, which is not generally known or ascertainable, which may give a business an economic advantage over competitors who do not know the trade secret
  • Examples include: a formula for a chemical compound (e.g., The Coca-Cola Company’s formula), a processes, plans, treating or preserving materials, software, or a pattern for a machine or other device
  • General Factors to determine whether information is a trade secret:
    • the extent to which the information is known to those in your business and those outside the business (e.g., extent to access to the information)
    • The information confers some sort of economic benefit on its holder (e.g., the information is valuable as to significantly impact the operations of a business); and
    • the information is subject to reasonable efforts to maintain secrecy


Here at the Office of Technology Transfer, we work hard to determine the most appropriate and potentially valuable type of intellectual property to pursue for our new technologies.   If you have questions regarding IP protection or to learn more about how the Office of Technology Transfer works with our faculty, clinicians and students to pursue IP protection, please reach out to our office or take a look at the IP section of our website, http://www.ott.emory.edu/inventors/protection.html.

i To register a trademark in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the trademark owner must file an application in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must find that the trademark meets trademark requirements, such as showing that the mark is not likely to be confused with other trademarks in the general class.

ii,iii   To be granted a patent in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the applicant must file and application in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Patent Office must find that the claimed invention/design meets patentability requirements, such as novel and not obvious.