The terms patent and intellectual property (IP) are often used interchangeably. In some respects, these terms are indeed interchangeable. All patents are the intellectual property of the inventor or inventors. Yet there are distinct differences in each category.
Patents can be bought and sold, as can IP. Patents can be licensed, as can other forms of IP. Both IP and inventions may belong to the creator’s employer if it was created as part of their employment. Patents and intellectual property rights in one nation may automatically carry that protection to other nations, based on treaties they have signed. Theft of intellectual property, including patented inventions, can be fought by suing those who replicated the content or creation without permission.
However, IP includes written works, musical scores, artwork, software code and other creations of thought that are not patentable. IP belongs to the creator from the moment it is created; no additional forms or fees are required to own the rights to what you have written or created. Patents only apply to physical inventions, repeatable business models, manufacturing processes, seeds and genetics. All discoveries are the IP of the discoverer unless they publish the information and state that it is now part of the public domain. Patents remain the property of the owner after the patent is granted and papers about it are written; however, writing papers about the invention before the patent is granted can endanger the patent.
Property Protection Trademarks are unique symbols that identify a company or person. These symbols can be registered within the company or person’s nation. Copyrights are simply a statement of ownership of content, such as a song, slogan, short story or blog post. In the United States, it is no longer necessary to put a copyright mark on material to enforce the copyright at a later point, but this does help distinguish public domain work from that which is privately owned.
Patented products can be copyrighted or trademarked. Unpatented inventions can also be copyrighted and trademarked, but this makes it more difficult to pursue those who copy the design as their own. Websites cannot be patented, but they can be trademarked or copyrighted as intellectual property. Trademarks and copyrights are subject to less restricted approval processes, but do afford legal protection of IP. Software models can be patented if they are sufficiently novel and unique, but the code used to create it is always the intellectual property of the software engineer or software company that developed it.