The 4 Types of Intellectual Property

The 4 Types of Intellectual Property

In the ever-changing landscape of business, a clear understanding of Intellectual Property (IP) is essential, particularly for those just stepping into the world of entrepreneurship in entertainment and retail.

Intellectual property is not just a legal concept but a crucial asset for any business. You IP needs nurturing and protection. This blog will explore the four types of IP, their importance for your business, and how to effectively manage and protect them.

Intellectual Property written in gold writing on a blue text book with a gavel and books in the background

What is Intellectual Property (IP)?

Intellectual Property, in its broadest sense, is part of a business’s assets. Assets generally are split into tangible and intangible properties.

Unlike tangible assets like real property or equipment, which depreciate, intangible assets such as IP generally increase in value over time. They require appropriate management and enforcement. This makes IP an essential asset that you must vigilantly safeguard.

What is the difference between copyright and intellectual property?

The terms “copyright” and “intellectual property” are often used in close contexts, but they refer to different concepts within the realm of law. Understanding the distinction is crucial, especially for businesses and creators.

Intellectual Property (IP)  is a broad term that encompasses all types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized and legally protected. IP includes several categories:

     Patents:Protect inventions and new processes.

     Trademarks: Safeguard brand identities such as logos and business names.

     Copyrights: Concern original works of authorship, like literature, music, and art.

     Trade Secrets: Involve business information not generally known and valuable for its secrecy.

Copyright: This is a specific category within intellectual property.Copyright Law textbook

Copyright protects original works of authorship, including…

  • literary
  • musical
  • dramatic
  • choreographic
  • pictorial
  • graphic
  • sculptural works
  • movies
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works

The primary focus is on the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Copyright grants the creator exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license the work. It also includes protections against unauthorized use by others.

In essence, while copyright is a specific type of intellectual property focused on creative works, intellectual property is an umbrella term that includes a range of protected creations and innovations.

What is an example of intellectual property?

An example of intellectual property can be seen in the case of “El Patio Pop-Up Shop,” as discussed by Attorney Morin in her interview with the Old 4th Ward Business Association. In this instance, the name “El Patio Pop-Up Shop” serves as a trade name, which is a type of intellectual property. As a trademark, “El Patio” identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services of one party from those of others.

In this specific case, “El Patio” is not only the legal trade name (El Patio LLC) but also functions as a branding tool. Its unique usage in a non-traditional context (not as a restaurant but in the fashion retail sector) marks it as an arbitrary trademark. This gives it a distinct identity and legal protection under IP law.

This example showcases how a business name, when used as a brand identifier, becomes an intellectual property in the form of a trademark. This offers exclusive rights and protections to the business owner.

The Four Types of Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property is comprised of 4 types of creations of the mind.


Patents are critical for protecting unique inventions and processes. These are especially relevant in the sectors of entertainment and retail, where innovation can range from new products to unique business methods.


Trademarks protect your business’s brand identity, including names, logos, and symbols. A case in point is the El Patio case. Here, the business name ‘El Patio’ was used as a trade name and registered as El Patio LLC. However, it also functions as a trademark when it came to branding and marketing. The unique usage of ‘El Patio’ in a non-restaurant setting highlights its role as an arbitrary mark, distinct in its industry.


Copyrights encompass creations like website content, designs, and photographs. Important elements like business card designs and marketing patterns fall under this category. They are original creative works that represent the business.

Trade Secrets:

Trade secrets include confidential information like customer lists and marketing strategies. While they don’t require registration, you must be actively protect them through specific steps, ensuring their confidentiality and business value.

How Do I Know if I Have Intellectual Property?

Determining whether you have Intellectual Property (IP) and understanding what does not constitute IP are both critical for effectively managing and protecting your business assets. Based on the information provided, here’s how you can approach these questions:

To identify if you have intellectual property, consider the following types of IP and see if any apply to your business or creative endeavors:

– Patents: Do you have an invention or a unique process? This could be a new product, a novel method in your industry, or a unique software algorithm.

– Trademarks: Does your business have a name, logo, or slogan that you use to identify your products or services in the market? For instance, as discussed in Attorney Morin’s interview, the name “El Patio” for a fashion retail business acts as a trade name and a trademark.

– Copyrights: Have you created original works of authorship? This includes things like writings, music, art, website content, graphic designs, or even marketing materials like brochures.   

– Trade Secrets: Do you possess business information that is confidential and gives your business a competitive edge, such as customer lists, recipes, or specific business methods?

If you can identify with any of the above, you likely have intellectual property.

What is not intellectual property?

Not everything created or used in a business is intellectual property. The following are not considered IP:

– Ideas or Concepts: General ideas, concepts, or proposals are not intellectual property until they are realized or expressed in a tangible form. For example, having an idea for a novel is not IP, but writing the novel is.

– Functional Items: Objects that serve a purely functional purpose, without any unique design or artistic aspect, typically do not qualify as intellectual property. For example, a standard tool used in construction is not IP unless it has a unique design or is part of a patented invention.

– Common Knowledge or Generic Information: Information widely known and not kept secret cannot be considered a trade secret, and therefore, is not IP. Similarly, generic or non-distinctive brand names that are descriptive of the goods or services offered may not qualify as trademarks.   

– Facts and Data: Mere facts and data, without an original authorship component, are not protected as IP. For example, a list of historical dates is not copyrighted, but an interpretive historical analysis could be.

Understanding what constitutes intellectual property versus what does not is essential for effective IP management and protection. It ensures that your efforts to secure and enforce your rights are well-directed and legally sound.

Why Protecting Your IP is Crucial for Your Business

Developing IP is a significant investment. Its protection is not just about legal compliance but securing a competitive edge and potential financial gains. Unprotected IP can result in business disadvantages and financial losses.

Real-World Implications of IP in Entertainment and Retail

Using real-life scenarios, we see how IP protection plays a significant role in sectors like entertainment and retail. A unique brand name or design can set a business apart in these highly competitive fields.

The Case of Kai Collective V. Fendi

Fashion is generally off limits where it concerns copyright, because clothing is what is deemed a “useful article” under the copyright law of the United States.

This means, the clothing serves a utilitarian function (to cover and keep the body warm), but non-obvious, novel designs may be covered by a design patent. Fashion also heavily depends on trademarks to protect brands by building corporate goodwill and consumers by enforcing brand distinction. In the instances when copyright does apply in fashion, it protects pictorial, visual, or sculptural aspects (e.g. jewelry).

In 2021, U.K. based indie label Kai Collective called out Italian luxury house Fendi for seeming to copy its “Gaia” print, which published in 2020 (Fendi published theirs in 2021). According to Fisayo Longe, Kai’s creative director, her prints are registered copyrights in the United States. U.S. registrations afford reciprocal protection under the Berne Convention in signatory nations who ratify the treaty, including U.K. and Italy since 1887.

What is Intellectual Property Theft?

IP theft happens when someone uses, reproduces, or distributes your IP without authorization. Proactive registration of your work (or proactive contracts to protect trade secrets!) is crucial for enabling legal action against such infringements.

How to Protect Your Intellectual Property

Protecting your IP involves several steps, including trademark and copyright registration. Consulting with an IP expert like Attorney Morin is recommended to ensure comprehensive protection and to explore additional strategies like safeguarding trade secrets.

Common Misconceptions and FAQs

A common misconception is the confusion between state and federal trademarks. For example, a state trademark might suffice for a local business, but a federal trademark is necessary for businesses that engage in interstate commerce.

Understanding these nuances is crucial for effective IP management.

Closing Thoughts

Protecting Intellectual Property is not just fulfilling a legal obligation; it’s about strategically securing your business’s identity and future. Investing in IP protection is investing in the core of your business’s unique value and potential.

For guidance on safeguarding your intellectual property, contact us at 404-800-5568 to book a complimentary discovery call.

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Consult with Attorney Morin for personalized legal guidance regarding your specific case-by-case situation.

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