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Office of Technology Transfer

Intellectual Property Explained

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is a property right that one has on an idea that is protectable. The main types of intellectual property protection include patents, copyrights, trademarks/service marks and trade secrets. Each type of intellectual property right is governed by its own applicable set of laws. For more information, please consult the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website, located at, and the U.S. Copyright Office website, at


Any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent.” The word “process” is defined by law as a process, act or method, and primarily includes industrial or technical processes. (from the USPTO website)


Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of a copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly. The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. (from the U.S. Copyright Office website)

Trademarks/Service Marks

A trademark is “a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” Similarly, a service mark protects the source of services instead of goods. (from the USPTO website)

Trade Secrets

Most commonly protected by the applicable state common law and statutes, trade secrets and know-how are protected by non-disclosure agreements and other activities that actively keep a method, formula or device out of the public domain.