Intellectual property glossary of terms

Welcome to our introductory glossary of terms, assembled to help you develop a basic understanding of intellectual property (IP). The first term to cover is, of course, intellectual property.

Merriam-Webster defines it as:

  • Property (such as an idea, invention, or process) that derives from the work of the mind or intellect
  • Also: an application, right, or registration relating to this

The definition we’re more concerned with is the latter one. It’s important to understand how the law interprets IP, because what the creator defines as IP might not meet the legal standards for your work to be protected. This is a deep and nuanced topic, but familiarizing yourself with the terms below is a good place to start.

All rights reserved:

The strongest type of trademark (because it is not generic or descriptive, therefore nobody else in your industry is likely to use it). A clear cut example would be Apple using a fruit as their trademark for computers. The “free vector” part of Free Vector Advisors could be called arbitrary, as a line in space is not descriptive of legal or business counsel.

See also: descriptive mark, generic mark, suggestive mark


Copyright is exactly what it sounds like – the right to copy a work. It’s important to note that the holder of a copyright does not technically own copies of the work. They hold an exclusive right to reproduce the work, since this is where profits from creative work come from.

Creative commons:

This is a type of copyright license that grants the public some rights to use and reproduce a creative work, while reserving others. These licenses are provided by the non-profit group of the same name. Learn more about them on their website, here. Think of this as somewhere in between all rights reserved and no rights reserved.

Descriptive mark:

These trademarks describe the product/service they represent. Examples would be the word “tough” for duct tape, or the word “fizzy” for soda. Descriptive marks are not viewed by the law as being particularly strong in disputes, because it’s unfair to monopolize a term that is so applicable to soda in general.

Design patent:

These patents protect the appearance of a product. For example, you can’t patent the beverage bottle itself but you can patent a specific design of it that is unique to your brand.

See also: patent, plant patent, utility patent

GNU license:

This is a free software license that guarantees that end users will always be able to use, copy and modify the code for a software program. That means nobody can take over the source code and make it proprietary, and the software will always be free. However, modified versions can still be made proprietary.

Generic mark:

These types of trademarks use common words in reference of a product or service. If you sell hammers, for instance, you can register a trademark with word “hammers” in it. However, you won’t have much protection in term of exclusive rights over that particular part of your trademark, because every seller of hammers should be able to use that word in their branding.

No rights reserved:

Putting this statement on creative work indicates that the work is in the public domain. In other words, it can be used and reproduced freely.

See also: public domain


An exclusive right awarded to the inventor of a product or process, preventing anybody else from using said product or process for an established number of years. Patents are meant to incentivize inventors to invent by ensuring they have a period of time to profit from their invention without having to worry about competition.

Public domain:

This refers to creative work that the public is allowed to freely use and reproduce. This could be work that 1) the author chose to make public, or 2) the copyright protections have expired. The works of Shakespeare, for example, can be freely distributed online or in hard copy. A publisher can reproduce it and sell printed copies for profits, but consumers can also find digital copies on the internet for no cost.

Plant patent:

This is a patent that covers “invented” or discovered plants. To be eligible for patent protection, a plant must be reproduced asexually.

See also: patent, design patent, utility patent.

Utility patent:

These patents cover original or improved processes, products and machines.

See also: patent, design patent, plant patent.

Some rights reserved:

This is a statement on creative work used to indicate that some rights to use and/or reproduce the work are allowed for the public. These kinds of copyright licenses can be provided by the non-profit organization Creative Commons.

See also: creative commons, no rights reserved, all rights reserved.

Suggestive mark:

These are marks that suggest attributes about a product or service, but are not directly related to that product or service. Examples are Microsoft, which suggests software at a small scale, and Greyhound, which implies speed.

Suggestive marks tend to offer more protection than generic or descriptive marks, for the obvious reason that they don’t attempt to monopolize important words needed to discuss general things like software or traveling. These marks have a lot of strength when it comes to disputes with competition in your industry, but Greyhound would offer you less protection in a dispute with a company that raises Greyhounds.

See also: arbitrary mark, descriptive mark, generic mark

Trade secret: some consider this a type of intellectual property, despite the fact that, by definition, it is not registered as IP in any way. A trade secret is proprietary knowledge that a company or individual protects by keeping it a secret, rather than filing a patent. The advantage to this is that you are not required to disclose the details of your process or knowledge, as you are when filing for a patent. An example of a trade secret is a proprietary recipe by a chef.


A logo, slogan or other visual depiction meant to represent your brand, that has been registered with the USPTO as such. The law protects such marks because brands build “good will” with the public overtime, and trade mark infringement by other parties could result in the decrease of such good will.

Trademark strength:

When it comes to legal protection, the strength of your TM, and therefore the protection granted by the legal system, will be determined by how the law classifies your mark. This is a big thing to consider when working on branding, because even if you’re not worried about your own protection, somebody with a similar name can sue you for infringing on their IP.

See also: arbitrary mark, descriptive mark, generic mark, suggestive mark

Trademark search:

A search conducted to make sure that the mark you intend to use has not already been registered as a trademark. The USPTO website has a guide to conducting searches here.

Trademark class:

These are categories defined by the US Patent and Trademark Office for you to put your IP when registering a trademark. there are 45 to choose from. See the list here.


The United States Copyright Office. This is the agency you register your copyrighted work with.


The US Patent and Trademark Office. This is the agency you apply for a patent or trademark through.

You can leverage your intellectual property to boost the market value of your company

Protecting your IP can give your strategic advantages, like having the exclusive right to use a resource. Registering a trademark can even lead to a secondary revenue stream, if other companies want to use your brand on their own products. Disney has made piles of money over the years for merely licensing their trademarks to apparel manufacturers.

For legal advice in regards to IP, business owners in Seattle, Bozeman, Palm Springs, and Pittsburgh can contact Free Vector Advisors.


Good one on Tms:

What type of patent should I file for,design%20patents%2C%20and%20plant%20patents

Different types of copyrights

What type of copyrights should I file for?

Different types of trademarks

What type of trademark should I file for?



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