What is Intellectual Property? Part 2 – What are the major different types of Intellectual Property?

In Part 1 we got a taste at a helicopter view what IP is, now we do a deep dive into the major types.

Lap, co-founder at nepchin, continues our chat with Brendan Cheong, qualified patent attorney from Indigo IP.


nepchin: “In Part 1 of our interview you mentioned there were 4 types of IP. Copyright, Trade marks, Patents and Design. Can you describe them to us?”

Brendan: “I’ll try to briefly cover each of the major IP types and what they protect.

Copyright is probably the most well known form of IP protection, and is the one that gets misquoted the most. I like to describe Copyright as an instrument for protecting your expression of something. This description covers the majority of IP that comes under Copyright, though it needs to be stretched somewhat to cover some other forms of IP that also come under Copyright. Copyright covers, for example, your painting of the flower in the park, as the painting is your expression of the flower. Similarly, the photograph you took of the flower, story and poem you wrote about the flower, the song you composed about the flower, and the sculpture that you made of the flower are also all your expressions of the flower and protectable under Copyright. Copyright prevents others from copying your painting without your permission. It does not however prevent them from creating their own painting of the same flower (even if it happens to look like your painting). But if they created a painting of the flower using your painting of the flower (instead of painting the flower directly) they may well be infringing your Copyright. Brilliantly confusing isn’t it?

Trade marks are relatively more straight forward. I like to describe trade marks as an instrument for protecting the identity of something. So things like a brand name, a product name, a certain colour scheme, graphic, logo, phrase, jingle, or even a 3D shape or smell can be protected as a trade mark. The only requirement for a trade mark is that it be able to distinguish the product/service it is assigned to from other similar products/services. Companies spend a lot of money in distinguishing their products/services, and themselves, from their competitors and trade marks are one way to protect their unique identity, and the reputation and goodwill that they have built up in their identity.

Brendan Cheong - Indigo IP

Brendan Cheong – Indigo IP

Let’s take a look at Patents next. Patents protect inventions. They don’t protect ideas. What’s the difference? Well, essentially an invention works whereas an idea has yet to be proven to work. Further thought needs to be put into an idea before it can be made to work, and if/when that time comes, you can then call your idea an invention and seek patent protection for it. I like to describe patents as an instrument for protecting something that produces an effect. You should not be able to obtain a patent for something that exists for the sheer sake of existing (e.g. a photograph, sculpture, brand, or mathematical algorithm). Rather, this ‘something’ should achieve a new effect such as curing a disease, causing less side effects, doing things more efficiently, doing things quicker or with greater accuracy, etc. Things that can be patented (assuming they produce an effect) include devices, chemical compounds, methods, processes, and systems. Software can also be patented in some forms, and only in some countries, but that’s a can of worms that we don’t have time to open right now.

Lastly, we have Designs. Designs made the headlines fairly recently in the Apple vs. Samsung patent wars. Oh, by the way, Designs are sometimes referred to as patents by the media because their full name is “Design Patents”, and journalist don’t know any better. Normal patents as we know them are really called “Utility Patents”, and these are the patents that attorneys and seasoned inventors are talking about when they use the word “Patent”. Designs protect the look of something, and that’s pretty much it. Industrial designers rely on Design protection a fair bit to protect things like the headlights of a car (ever noticed how unique BMW headlights are?), the shape of a bottle (Coca-cola any one?), the look of icons on a phone (Apple vs Samsung), and so on.
Well that went on for a bit, but I hope I manage to give a simple overview of how and why companies might want to protect their IP.”

nepchin: “That’s great to know the difference between utility patents and design patents since we will be better informed when we read the news!”


In Part 3 we find out the steps to take in order to commercialise your IP.


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