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What are the four types of Intellectual Property and how do you protect them?

Dennemeyer Group / March 10, 2021
What are the four types of Intellectual Property and how do you protect them?

Asking and answering the question, "What are the four types of Intellectual Property?" in a comprehensive manner will ultimately lead you to the best practices for keeping your intangibles under lock and key.

Intellectual Property (IP) assets are among the most valuable possessions of any organization. For many, these intangible properties are worth more than their tangible assets, including cash, liquid financial holdings, buildings, equipment and land. Indeed, for most S&P 500 companies, tangibles comprise just 16% of their value, while intangibles such as IP rights and even more abstract resources like reputation constitute the remaining 84%.

Though much less visible than physical security, IP protection is no less important for an organization with such assets. To best ensure that these "gold mines" are fully safeguarded, it is critical to have a practical understanding of the four major types of IP. We will examine them here and address the proper protections for each.Need help protecting your IP assets?

What are the four types of IP?

The vast majority of IP assets fall into four categories: patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. 

    • Patents are exclusive rights that protect invented machines, manufactured objects, technological or industrial processes and systems. In some instances, as with pharmaceutical products, a patent may protect chemical formulas or compositions. Additionally, in some jurisdictions, patents also cover designs, whereas, in others, namely the European Union, design or industrial design rights serve that purpose.
    • Trademarks or service marks apply to assets that serve as marketplace identifiers for organizations' brands, including, but not limited to, product or service names, logos and slogans (though it is difficult to obtain exclusive rights on the latter). A prominent and easily recognizable trademarked logo can be the most valuable asset in a company's entire IP portfolio.
How can a business protect its Intellectual Property? Many companies neglect to ask themselves this question in a timely matter and only realize its importance when significant infringement risks arise.
  • Copyrights protect dramatic, literary and artistic works, including those created for hire. "Artistic" and "literary" are broad terms here. An architect's drawings that form the basis for later planning permission can be copyrighted just as a comic book artist's would be, and a thought-leadership white paper produced by a business owner is no less eligible for copyright protection than a novel.
  • Trade secrets are essential pieces of information regarding the processes, products or services of an organization that are not intended to be published or otherwise distributed and that directly benefit the owner by dint of their confidentiality. All things being equal, these secrets will only be known to other parties if shared with a business partner. Recipes for food and beverages or algorithms used in software may fall under this category.

Key features of major IP assets

All of the IP categories detailed above are governed by various guidelines in some form or fashion. Most often, these are codified in the laws of individual national jurisdictions. In the case of the European Union, regional regulations also apply, though deference will be given to member states' laws so long as they do not conflict or overlap with those of the wider block. Civil treaties administered by nonpartisan organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and World Trade Organization (WTO) are also important; some have legal weight, while others oblige the member states to adapt their national laws accordingly.

    • Patents are protected under the laws of virtually all jurisdictions. Once patent applications are filed and approved by relevant authorities, protection can typically last up to 20 years if all required upkeep fees are paid, and documents are submitted on time. Most jurisdictions grant a different life span to design patents (usually 10-25 years) and utility patents (10-20 years). Moreover, countries that have ratified the WIPO's Paris Convention or the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement are expected to respect patented IP assets from other nations within their borders per the same privileges granted to their own nationals.
    • Trademarks are also legally protected in practically all countries once registered. Unlike patents, registration can be maintained indefinitely as long as renewal fees are paid, typically at 10-year intervals. Mark holders may also need to prove they are putting these IP assets to use or attempting to do so, either periodically or at the request of third parties. The WIPO's Madrid System provides a framework for international cooperation on trademark rights, but registration in one nation does not guarantee protection in another.
The unauthorized distribution of information protected by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or confidentiality contracts could lead to civil suits filed by the secrets' originators.
  • Copyrights receive remarkably long-lasting legal protection. Once created, the copyright applies for at least 50 years after the creator's death in most countries (70 in some jurisdictions such as the United States and European Union). The 50-year minimum comes from the Berne Convention, which almost 180 countries have ratified and implemented as their own law. In cases where a work's copyright protection in one country is shorter than that in another, the shorter term applies.
  • Trade secrets acquire legal protection once commercially relevant data is defined and concealed. The restricted sharing of such information is generally secured by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or confidentiality contracts. Parties that break NDAs regarding trade secrets may be subject to civil suits filed by the secrets' originators and could be criminally liable if disclosure led to counterfeiting (though the latter is quite difficult to prove). The WTO's TRIPS Agreement applies to all WTO-affiliate nations and covers all IP, including trade secrets. However, it carries no legal penalties.

How do you protect your IP?

The phrase "You can never be too careful" applies perfectly to IP assets. Registering IP in every jurisdiction relevant to your business is key, especially for patents and trademarks, and entering into the WIPO's framework helps facilitate more far-reaching protection and save money. If you expect significant infringement risk in specific jurisdictions, obtaining registered copyrights is of additional benefit. Meanwhile, trade secrets must be secured with appropriate secrecy mechanisms, for instance, blockchain encryption, and covered by NDAs if they are to be shared for any reason.

Timely renewal and upkeep (i.e., fee payment and declarations of use) are also essential protective steps with all registered IP rights. These should not be allowed to lapse without due commercial and strategic consideration.

Furthermore, staying vigilant regarding all risks to your IP portfolio is crucial, which means more than just looking out for infringement and being abreast of regulatory trends. Issues such as the internal mishandling of your intangible asset portfolio could also endanger its value. An IP audit from Dennemeyer's impartial experts can help you assess the state of your IP and work procedures to mitigate or eliminate any liabilities that may be present.



作为有价值的无形资产之一,知识产权 (IP) 资产对许多企业而言其价值甚至高于许多有形资产,例如现金、流动性金融资产、建筑物、设备和土地等。

事实也正是如此,大多数标准普尔500指数成份公司中,有形资产仅占其价值的16%,而知识产权等无形资产以及声誉等更抽象的资源则占据剩余的 84%。




  1. 专利:


  1. 商标:


  1. 版权:

版权,也称作著作权。指作者或其他人(包括法人) 依法对某一著作物享受的权利。版权是知识产权的一种类型,是对计算机程序、文学著作、音乐作品、照片、电影等的复制权利的合法所有权。除非转让给另一方,版权通常被认为是属于作者的,而企业制作的思想领导力白皮书在获得版权保护方面也不亚于著作。

  1. 商业秘密:





  • 知识产权的约束:

上面详述的所有知识产权类别都以某种形式或方式受各种准则的约束。大多数情况下,这些往往都被编入了各个国家司法管辖区的法律中。就欧盟而言,地区法规也适用,但只要成员国的法律不与欧盟的法律发生冲突或重叠,就会尊重成员国的法律。由世界知识产权组织 (WIPO) 和世界贸易组织 (WTO) 等无党派组织管理的民事条约也很重要;其中一些具有法律效力,而另一些则要求成员国相应地调整其本国法律。

  • 专利的保护期限:

专利几乎受所有司法管辖区的法律保护。一旦专利申请提交并获得相关部门的批准,如果支付了所有所需的维护费用,并且也按时提交了文件,专利保护期通常可长达20 年。大多数司法管辖区授予外观设计专利(通常为10-25年)和实用专利(10-20 年)不同期限。此外,已批准世界知识产权组织 WIPO 的巴黎公约或世界贸易组织WTO 的与贸易有关的知识产权 (TRIPS) 协定的国家应尊重其境内其他国家的专利知识产权资产,赋予其本国国民同样的特权。

  • 商标的续费延续:

商标一旦注册,几乎在所有国家都受到法律保护。与专利不同的是,只要支付了续展费,通常每10年一次,注册就可以无限期地维持下去。商标持有者可能还需要定期或应第三方要求证明他们正在使用或试图使用这些知识产权资产。世界知识产权组织WIPO 的马德里体系为商标权的国际合作提供了框架,但在一国注册并不能保证在另一国获得保护。

未经授权泄露受保密协议 (NDA) 或保密合同保护的信息可能会导致机密所属者提起民事诉讼。

• 版权的保护期限:


• 商业秘密的法律保护:

一旦商业相关数据被界定和隐藏,商业秘密就会受到法律保护。此类信息的受限共享通常受到保密协议 (NDA) 或保密合同的保护。违反商业秘密保密协议的当事人可能会受到机密所属者提起的民事诉讼,如果泄露导致伪造,则可能要承担刑事责任(尽管后者很难证明)。世界贸易组织 WTO 与贸易有关的知识产权协议 TRIPS 适用于所有世界贸易组织 WTO 附属国家,涵盖所有知识产权,包括商业秘密,但是它不具备法律处罚的权利。



• 注重知识产权的注册:“小心驶得万年船”这句话完全适用于知识产权资产。在业务相关的每个司法管辖区注册知识产权是关键,特别是专利和商标,加入世界知识产权组织 WIPO 有助于促进更深远的保护并节省资金。如果在特定司法管辖区存在重大侵权风险,那么获得注册版权会带来额外好处。

• 设定保密机制:商业秘密必须通过适当的保密机制进行保护,例如区块链加密,如果它们出于某种原因要被共享,则必须由保密协议覆盖保护。

• 按时更新与维护:及时更新和维护(费用支付和使用声明)也是所有注册知识产权的必要保护步骤。在没有适当的商业和战略考虑的情况下,这些知识产权要始终保持有效。

知识产权是我们的私有财产,是神圣不可侵犯的。保护知识产权也是社会发展的主流共识。因此提高对知识产权的警惕性和保护意识必不可少,这不仅需要企业时刻注意规避侵权等危害行为的发生,同时更需要紧跟知识产权监管政策及趋势,提前预防。如果您希望拥有一只专业、稳定的团队,时刻守护企业的知识产权,杜绝违规行为的发生,Dennemeyer 或将是您的不二之选!Dennemeyer 拥有公正的专家可以为您进行知识产权审计,同时我们也可以助您评估知识产权的状态和工作流程,以减轻或消除任何可能存在的责任,时刻为您的无形资产保驾护航,全面助力企业在知识产权时代安全、加速前行!

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