What is Intellectual Property and How Can You Protect It?

You probably have heard the term, but aren’t exactly sure what is intellectual property and how can you protect it? Intellectual property is the ownership rights to an artistic, scientific, or commercial innovation, symbol, design, or logo. Intellectual property is protected by copyrights, trademarks, patents, or trade secrets.

Examples of intellectual property protection include:

  • patents on inventions
  • trademarks on names
  • copyrights on music, computer programs, and other literary and artistic works.

How Can You Protect Intellectual Property?

One of the most important points to note about intellectual property is that protection isn’t inherent in the works, invention, or innovation in itself. In order to protect your intellectual property, you’ll need to actively seek out protection through a patent, trademark, copyright, or trade secret.

Patents and Trademarks

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the agency that issues patents to businesses and inventors. Individuals or businesses seeking patent protection must apply for a patent with the agency. The USPTO also handles trademark registration for intellectual property. A trademark provides protection for names, words, symbols, colors and sounds. Trademark registration with the USPTO isn’t required, but it’s recommended.


The U.S. Copyright Office is the official government office of public record that handles copyright registration. While you do not need to register your copyright, as in the case for a trademark, it’s recommended that you do. Registering your copyright enables you to sue another party for copyright infringement and may entitle you to more damages than not having a registered copyright.

Trade Secrets

Most large and small companies alike have trade secrets, which are generally any formula, method, process, technique, device that gives your business a competitive advantage. There’s no official government agency to “register” your trade secret, so you have to take matters into your own hands to keep your trade secret in fact a secret. You can improve your trade secret protection by implementing confidentiality agreements, non-disclosure agreements, restrict access to trade secret information, discuss trade secret policies and procedures with employees, and conduct exit interviews with employees that have terminated their relationship with your company.

A small business owner must realize that protecting his company’s intellectual property is not necessarily automatic. Instead, certain steps must be taken such as registering with the USPTO or establishing procedures with respect to use of confidential and proprietary information in order to obtain the most protection.