Intellectual property (IP) is a collection of owned ideas or concepts. The main types of IP protection are patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
- Patents: Patents are issued for new inventions by the government and give inventors the right to keep others from making, selling, or using their invention for a set period, after which the inventors have to disclose their invention (TLA Law, 2019). Patents are the type of IP protection that is most essential for a biotechnology startup. Part of your patent application will be a thorough search for existing patents for part or all of your idea. Note that you also want to make sure there are no existing patents that might block you from developing your business fully.
- Copyright: Copyrights protect “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression” (17 U.S.C.A. § 102). They give rights to sell, distribute copies, publicly display, prepare derivative works, publish, perform, film, or record and authorize others to exercise these rights (TLA Law, 2019). Patents are best for protecting procedures, processes, formulas, methods, or systems, but supportive documents for patented products may also be copyrighted.
- Trademarks: Trademarks protect the distinct elements of the identity of your business, product, or service and distinguish you from others. The elements may be names, titles, short phrases, slogans, symbols, or designs (TLA Law, 2019).
- Trade Secrets: Trade secrets are proprietary, not generally known knowledge that give your business an advantage competitively or economically. They include designs, formulas, methods, protocols, and tools. They are carefully guarded and may be protected by confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements (TLA Law, 2019).
Source: TLA Law. Intellectual Property Cheat Sheet: The 5 types of intellectual property to know. IPLaw/TLA Law. November 6, 2019.
Additional Types of IP and Their Protections
- Disclosed Inventions: An invention that has been disclosed confidentially as part of the patent pre-application process. An invention may be disclosed to the public because it is not patentable and confidentiality does not confer any value.
- Know-How: Technical information or assistance provided that can be sold (licensed) to another researcher or business. Usually confidential, know-how may include unpatented designs, methods, or skills needed to produce something. Know-how can be licensed but, unlike technology, not exclusively.
- Tangible Assets: This includes assets used in research with commercial value, for example, a specific type of mouse or equipment you developed. To share them with another researcher involves a material transfer agreement (MTA), which is a contract that defines the rights and obligations of both parties and protects intellectual property.