Different Types of Intellectual Property Rights and Why They Are Important

January 13th, 2022 ‧ 4 min read

Table of contents

What Are Intellectual Property Rights?

Intellectual property rights are legal rights that provide creators protection for original works, inventions, or the appearance of products, artistic works, scientific developments, and so on.

Basically speaking, intellectual property rights are a common type of legal IP protection for those who invent.

These rights have contributed enormously to the world, in particular economically.

Many companies in various industries rely on the enforcement of their patents, trademarks, and copyrights, while consumers can also be assured of quality when purchasing IP-backed products.

Now, let’s better understand the benefits IP delivers and how we should value the different protection types of intellectual property rights.

The Importance of Intellectual Property Rights

The purpose of intellectual property rights is to encourage new creations, including technology, artwork, and inventions, that might increase economic growth. Intellectual property rights increase the incentives for individuals to continue to produce things that further create job opportunities and new technologies while enabling our world to improve and evolve even faster.

According to The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center:

  • Intellectual Property Creates and Supports High-Paying Jobs

IP-intensive industries employ over 45 million Americans and hundreds of millions of other people worldwide. The average worker in an IP industry earns about 46% more than their counterpart in a non-IP industry.

  • Intellectual Property Drives Economic Growth and Competitiveness

America’s IP industry is worth approximately US$ 6.6 trillion, which is more than the nominal GDP of any other country in the world. IP-intensive industries account for over 1/3 (or 38.2%) of total U.S. GDP. 52% of all U.S. merchandise exports are related to IP, amounting to nearly US$ 842 billion.

Types of Intellectual Property Rights

There are four types of intellectual property rights (IP): patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.


A patent is used to prevent an invention from being created, sold, or used by another party without permission. Patents are the most common type of intellectual property rights that come to people’s minds when they think of intellectual property rights protection. A patent owner has every right to commercialize his/her/its patent, including buying and selling the patent or granting a license to the invention to any third party under mutually agreed terms.

In the U.S., patents can be categorized into three types: utility, design, and plant.

A utility patent is what most people think of when they hear the word “patent.” It is also the most common type of patent that inventors apply for. A utility patent protects the creation of new or improved products, processes, compositions of matter, or machines that are useful.

In addition, once a utility patent is granted, the patent owner will have the right to exclude anyone from making, using, or selling this invention for 20 years, starting from the date the patent application was filed.

An example of utility patent: Method for a driver assistance system of a vehicle US9772626B2

A design patent only protects the ornamental characteristics and the appearance of a product, but not the structural and functional features. Since design patents and utility patents provide completely different areas of intellectual property protection, you can apply for both utility and design patents for the same product.

Unlike utility patents, design patents have a 15-year term.

An example of design patent: Electric bicycle USD845178S1

A plant patent protects new kinds of plants that have been reproduced asexually. This means that the plant has been reproduced by seeds, cuttings, or other nonsexual means. Also, it cannot be a tuber-propagated plant or a plant that is still uncultivated.

Plant patents also have a 20-year term.

An example of plant patent: Crapemyrtle plant named ‘JM1’ USPP31585P2


trademark example
Source: Color Matters

Trademarks are another familiar type of intellectual property rights protection. A trademark is a distinctive sign that allows consumers to identify the particular goods or services a company provides easily. Some examples include McDonald’s golden arch, the Facebook logo, and so on. A trademark can come in the form of text, a phrase, symbol, sound, smell, or color scheme. Unlike patents, a trademark can protect a set or class of products or services instead of just one product or process.


Copyright does not protect ideas. Instead, it only covers “tangible” forms of creations and original work–for example, art, music, architectural drawings, or even software codes. The copyright owner has the exclusive right to sell, publish, and/or reproduce any literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, or architectural work created by the author.

Trade Secret

Trade secrets are the secrets of a business. They are proprietary systems, formulas, strategies, or other confidential information and are not meant for unauthorized commercial use by others. This is a critical form of protection that can help businesses gain a competitive advantage.


Although intellectual property rights may seem to provide a minimum amount of protection, when utilized wisely, they can maximize the benefit and value of an invention and enable world-changing technology to be developed, protected, and monetized.

Read more about patents in our Inventor’s Guide Series, like this one about what can or can’t be patented, or browse our many other helpful Handbooks and Guides articles!


Originally published on February 6, 2020

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