A Comparison of Various Types of Intellectual Property


Utility Patent

Design Patent

Trade Secret



What is protected?

Products, processes, compositions, functions

Cosmetic appearance


Original expression of an idea

Customer's idea about the source of the product or service.

What is forbidden to others?

Using the claimed invention.

Making something that looks the same.

Unauthorized use or dissemination by someone who has been let in on the secret.

Copying the expression

Confusing the customer.

How is the right established?



Use in trade.


Use in trade

What is needed to get protection?

The invention must be: disclosed in detail. It must be new; useful; and not obvious to a skilled person.

Cosmetic appearance must be new and not obvious.

Knowhow must be well defined, not generally known, and must be safeguarded.

Concrete realization of the expression. 

Mark must be distinctive rather than descriptive

How long does protection last?

Less than 20 years.

14 years (US)

Until someone spills the beans.

50-100 yrs.

As long as it is used.


Note that there is no column labeled "Idea". A concept or idea, by itself, is NOT protected by intellectual property law.


There is also no column labeled “Utility Model’. Many countries (but not the US) allow registration of things that are new, but that are not sufficiently inventive to be patentable. The period of protection for a utility model is generally shorter than that of a utility patent, and the coverage is narrower.

David A. Kiewit
Registered Patent Agent
5901 Third St. South
St. Petersburg FL 33705-5305
+1 (727) 656-0669 voice

+1 (760) 841-0989 fax
questions to: dak@patent-faq.com
Copyright 1999-2013 by David A. Kiewit
All rights reserved



ABCs of Patents

Practical Secrecy



Patent Searches

Utility Patents

First Steps

Design Patents




I.P. for Start Ups


Innovation in Production

Steps to getting a US patent