An important question to answer for both businesses and individuals is; what are the four types of intellectual property? Whether you are focused on engineering, retailing, creative arts, or a multitude of other business types, protection for your intellectual property assets is crucial.

The four types of intellectual property are:

  • Copyrights
  • Trademarks
  • Patents
  • Trade Secrets

The laws surrounding intellectual property can quickly become complicated and confusing. Legal disputes erupt overuse and ownership and can negatively impact your brand, company, or reputation. Avoid these negative impacts by knowing what the four types are and how you can legally protect each one.

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property includes creations of the mind, including everything from inventions to computer programs to works of art. It can be unique slogans, processes, or actual products.

To protect intellectual property, exclusive rights are granted to those who create it. This can be individual inventors, authors, or businesses. Each type, however, requires specific steps to obtain the best level of protection.

What Are the Four Types of Intellectual Property?

The creation of intellectual property is an exciting time, and before going to market, you need to protect your idea in the best way possible. This brings us to the four types of intellectual property protection — copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.


A copyright protects expressions of ideas or creations, such as writings, pictures, art, music, and various other artistic forms referred to as intellectual works. Copyrights also protect various computer software and architecture. Federal laws, with oversight by the US Copyright Office, provide this protection.

From the moment something is created, copyright protection is automatic. This means that once you create something, like a literary work, it is designated as yours and yours alone. You may take this one step further and register your work with the US Copyright Office. That way, if your rights are infringed in any way, you can file a copyright lawsuit.


Trademarks are defined as unique words, phrases, symbols, or designs that distinguish and identify the source of those products or services as belonging to one party as opposed to another. To legally protect these, you will need to register them with the US Patent & Trademark Office, or USPTO.

You can apply for trademark protection for your company name, tagline, logo, product or service name. As long as it is unique in your line of business, protection granted can last for years.

By registering trademarks with the USPTO, you are protecting a business or individual asset. When a brand accumulates goodwill over many years, a trademark registration prevents competitors from taking advantage of that goodwill.


Patents are meant to protect new inventions or discoveries that are proven to be useful and non-obvious. New processes, machinery, compositions of matter, or articles of manufacture are examples of what can be patented. They are also granted to those who invent or discover improvements.

For an individual or business owner, this means that when you find a new way to make or design something or discover a completely new product to sell, you need to patent the idea as soon as possible with the USPTO.

If you don’t, you risk the stealing of all or part of your idea and even attempts at reverse engineering by a competitor.

Generally, a patent will last for 20 years from the date of the patent application initiation. During this time, others are legally prevented from making, offering for sale, or using your product or process.

Trade Secrets

The fourth intellectual property type, trade secrets, quickly becomes complicated when identifying and providing adequate protection. While protected without requiring an official registration, all too often, they find their way into non-owners’ hands, and this can be problematic for your business.

Trade secrets are generally defined as confidential information which contributes to a business’ competitive advantage in the marketplace, such as processes and formulas.

If your business has trade secrets, you can start protecting them by requiring nondisclosure agreements with those you discuss your business with. You can also include clauses in business contracts with partners, contractors, and individual employees. Always work with an experienced contract drafting attorney to ensure you include the necessary clauses for protection.

By taking steps to protect confidential information, you are establishing it as a trade secret, which will be imperative if you need to take legal action.

Now that you know the answer to what are the four types of intellectual property let’s look at some examples.

What are Examples of Intellectual Property?

So, specifically, what are examples of intellectual property in all four categories? Here are several to give you an idea of how much intellectual works surround you each day.


Under US Copyright Law, you can find any of the following examples covered.

  • Literary works: poetry, novels, essays, speeches, nonfiction works, articles, catalogs, and advertising campaigns.
  • Graphic, Pictorial, and Sculptural Works: drawings, sketches, cartoons, photographs, paintings, charts, greeting cards, blueprints, engineering drawings, wallpaper and fabric designs, tapestries, sculptures, globes, and glassware.
  • Musical Works: musical notation and lyrics
  • Sound Recordings: recorded voices, music, and sound effects
  • Dramatic Works: scripts, screenplays, operas, and plays
  • Audiovisual Works: videos, movies, and film strips


Every day you use trademarked products and services whether you realize it or not. Walk down a grocery store aisle and notice the different brands on the shelf with unique names or logos to identify them.

Below are a few specific traditional and non-traditional examples of trademarks in the marketplace today.

  • Name: Coco Chanel and Kimberly-Clark
  • Slogan: What’s in Your Wallet? (Capital One)
  • Symbol: Nike Swoosh and McDonald’s Golden Arches
  • Character: Geico Gecko
  • Color: Tiffany Blue (used on boxes, bags, and more)
  • Sound: MGM Lion Roar
  • Shape: Coca-Cola bottle shape


Patents are used to protect various inventions and discoveries, from new processes to machinery. Examples of patents enforced today include:

  • Mechanical Inventions
  • Electrical/Electronic Devices, such as the Apple iPhone
  • Computer/Software Inventions
  • Method/Process Inventions, such as the Method of Operating a Thermal Management System
  • Design Patents, including one for the computer mouse

Trade Secrets

A variety of information types fall under the designation as a trade secret, including the following examples.

  • formulas
  • distribution methods
  • sales methods
  • marketing strategies
  • advertising campaigns
  • consumer information
  • vendor or client lists
  • production processes

More specific trade secret examples include the recipe for Coca-Cola, the chemical formula for WD-40, and the distribution methods of Wal-Mart.

There are times when you will want to secure your intellectual property under more than one of these types. Use each one to your advantage and work with an experienced Houston business attorney to ensure you have everything covered.

Contact an Experienced Houston Business Attorney to Protect Your Trade Secrets

Understanding the four different types of intellectual property and available protection measures can help you make informed decisions. Seeking out an attorney with experience in your particular type, such as trade secrets, can increase those measures.

Houston business attorney Andrew Weisblatt is available to assist you with a variety of legal matters. In addition, he is an experienced contract drafting attorney and can ensure that all protective language is included in your contracts and non-disclosure agreements. Call us today at (713) 666-1981 to schedule your free consultation.

Houston Business Contracts Attorney

Attorney Andrew Weisblatt

Mr. Weisblatt has practiced continuously since becoming licensed in 1992 and has represented businesses ranging in size from one person start-up ventures to multi-national corporations employing hundreds of people in multiple countries. From 2005 through 2009 Mr. Weisblatt was in-house counsel and chief operating officer of a multi-national corporation in the steel products industry. That in-house position provided valuable insight into how businesses work and what they actually need from their lawyers – both in-house and outside counsel. Attorney Bio