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Intellectual Property FAQ

Innovation is critical to our economic success in Minnesota. Our ideas and inventions help make society in general and businesses in particular thrive. In fact, as intellectual property, these ideas and inventions are often considered business assets and must be protected if you as a business or person want to receive their full benefits. When protected, you have certain rights to your intellectual property, including remedies when a person or entity infringes upon those rights. 

At Heritage Law Office, our intellectual property lawyer in Minnesota helps clients protect their intellectual property. There are different types of protection for different types of intellectual property. The process, however, to ensure proper protection is cumbersome and creates confusion. Below, we share some of the most common questions we receive on this issue. To get smart, specific legal guidance, contact us at 414-253-8500 today to schedule a consultation. We want you to have a good working understanding of intellectual property rights and processes so that you make informed decisions for yourself or your business. 

What is Intellectual Property?

What is Intellectual Property?

The U.S. Department of State provides a good working definition of intellectual property (IP) as the embodiment of “unique work reflecting someone's creativity and is all around us, manifested through miracle drugs, computer games, films, and cars.” 

When a person or entity creates something new, it is the product of their creativity, knowledge, and thought process. As such, it is their intellectual property. It can be a tangible product, a type of service, or even a new process. Whichever or whatever it is, if it meets certain criteria, it is entitled to protection. This protection nurtures an environment of creativity and creates a system of rights and responsibilities.

What are the Benefits of Protecting Intellectual Property?

Protecting your intellectual property offers advantages regardless of whether you are doing so as an individual or business entity. Common benefits of IP protection include:

  • Profiting from your idea or invention
  • Increasing your company's market share or market value through the sale, commercialization, or licensure of IP
  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Raising or securing funds by using IP as debt collateral 
  • Developing a competitive advantage in the market

These and other benefits are dependent on the type of IP and the protection you secure for it. Some types of protection are automatic while other types require a process to qualify.

What are the Main Types of Intellectual Property Law?

What are the Main Types of Intellectual Property Law?

There are four main types of intellectual property. Below is a brief description of each. 


The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines copyright as “a form of protection provided by U.S. law to the authors of ‘original works of authorship'” fixed in any tangible medium of expression.”

This definition is broad and covers different types of materials that can be subject to copyright, like:

  • Writing
  • Photographs
  • Music and sound recordings
  • Paintings and sculptures
  • Architectural works

Copyrights are not applicable to ideas alone.


According to the USPTO, a patent grants an inventor property rights to their invention. These rights include the ability to exclude others from “‘making, using, offering for sale, or selling'” the invention. 

There are three different types of patents: 

  1. Utility patents, which cover how an invention is made or functions
  2. Design patents, which cover an invention's ornamental or non-functional features
  3. Plant patents, which cover newly discovered plants


A trademark is defined by the USPTO as a “word, name, symbol, or device that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others.” 

Popular examples of trademarks include:

  • McDonald's® golden arches
  • Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse 
  • Nike's swoosh logo and Just Do It®
  • Google®
  • Facebook®

It is possible for a trademark to cover a group of products. 

Trade Secrets

A trade secret is an intellectual property that belongs to a particular entity that has value because it is not common knowledge. Something that is public knowledge cannot be considered a trade secret. 

Ways in which trade secrets materialize include but are not limited to:

  • Engineering information
  • Methods, processes, and knowledge
  • Formulas
  • Business and financial information
  • Business plans
  • Budgets
  • Methods of calculating costs or pricing
  • Customer and supplier lists
  • Internal marketing and development strategies
  • Computer programs (e.g., source code)
  • Pending or unpublished patent applications
  • Products or services in research and development
  • Means to collect data

Popular examples of trade secrets include:

  • Coca-Cola's recipe
  • Eleven herbs and spices used in KFC's fried chicken
  • Google's algorithms
  • Criteria used for New York Times's Best Seller List

Types of Intellectual Property Protection

Type of IP Protection Description Examples


Protects original works of authorship fixed in tangible mediums.

Books, music, movies, artwork


Grants exclusive rights to an invention, covering how it works or how it's used.

Medications, technological devices, mechanical processes


Protects symbols, logos, and phrases used to distinguish goods or services.

Brand logos, slogans, distinctive packaging

Trade Secret

Protects confidential business information that provides a competitive edge.

Recipes, algorithms, client lists

How Do I Protect My Intellectual Property?

How Do I Protect My Intellectual Property?

A person or entity should take steps to keep IP protected. By doing so, they help protect their own interests and the ability to keep their IP safe from others. 

Some steps to protect IP include:

  1. Filing for the appropriate type of IP protection (i.e., patent, trademark, copyright, or trade secret)
  2. Keeping detailed documentation of ideas and content (i.e., records, descriptions, drawings, dates, etc. that prove you conceived and developed the idea or invention and not someone else)
  3. Keeping private ideas and secrets just that… secret

These three steps sound easier than they are but taking them will help you maintain your IP rights. 

One additional step to help ensure you properly and timely protect your IP is this: speak to an IP lawyer in Minnesota. It will help you make sure all the necessary steps are taken to maximize IP protection and the benefits that flow from it.

Can, and if so, How Do I Transfer Intellectual Property?

IP can be transferred between parties. The proper way to complete this type of transfer depends on several different factors, including the type of IP and the agreement between the parties. Sometimes, IP is part of an estate plan and ownership passes through the estate. 

Under certain circumstances, it may be possible to transfer IP through an assignment of IP rights. When considering a transfer of IP, it is always a good idea to seek counsel from an experienced Minnesota IP attorney. 

How Are Intellectual Property Rights Enforced?

How Are Intellectual Property Rights Enforced?

The most effective means to enforce IP is through registration. Sometimes, however, especially when IP rights have been violated, other enforcement means are necessary.

When another person or entity infringes upon your intellectual property rights, the most obvious way to enforce your rights is through litigation. Filing a lawsuit may be the best way to proceed in cases where time is of the essence. An injunction, which causes a party to immediately cease a certain action, may be necessary as well. 

Another way to enforce IP rights includes sending a “cease and desist” letter to the infringing party. Sometimes, when time is not critical, this letter is sent prior to litigation.

Also, according to the particular circumstances of the situation, it may be a good idea to make a report to the appropriate authorities for criminal prosecution.  

What to Do if Accused of Violating an IP Right?

When accused of violating an IP right, the best first step is to contact an intellectual property defense attorney in Minnesota. They will help you determine (1) whether or not you have actually violated an IP right; and if you have, (2) the best way to remedy the situation with the least disruption to you. 

Gather any and all information you have in regard to the allegation made against you for your attorney to review. 

What Do Intellectual Property Lawyers Do in Minnesota?

IP lawyers wear several different hats. First, they can help determine whether or not something is indeed IP and needs to be protected. If so, the attorney will determine what type of protection is needed and file the appropriate paperwork to obtain the patent, trademark, or copyright. Once the protection is obtained, an IP lawyer will help their client if any other party attempts to infringe upon their rights. 

IP lawyers are also integral to the development of IP strategies. Building a strong working relationship with an IP attorney can act as a competitive advantage in your industry and help you gain a larger share of the market.

Contact an Intellectual Property Attorney in Minnesota Today

Contact an Intellectual Property Attorney in Minnesota Today

Intellectual property is critical to growth, and IP protection is critical to ensuring you receive the benefits of your ideas and hard work. At Heritage Law Office, our IP attorney in Minnesota is here to help you get the IP protection and strategies you need. Contact us today by either filling out the online form or calling us at 414-253-8500 to schedule a consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions

More Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the difference between copyright and patent protection?

Copyright protects original works of authorship, such as books, music, and art, fixed in a tangible medium of expression. It prevents others from copying, distributing, performing, or displaying the work without permission. Patents, on the other hand, grant inventors exclusive rights to their inventions for a limited time, allowing them to exclude others from making, using, selling, or distributing the invention without their consent.

2. Can a business trademark a color or a smell?

Yes, businesses can trademark distinctive colors or smells if they are non-functional and have acquired secondary meaning. A color can be trademarked if it is uniquely associated with a brand and distinguishes its products or services from others. Similarly, a unique smell can be trademarked if it serves to identify the source of a product and is not a natural byproduct of the product itself.

3. How does intellectual property protection encourage innovation?

Intellectual property protection encourages innovation by providing creators and inventors with a period of exclusive rights to profit from their creations. This exclusivity allows them to recover the investments made in developing new products, services, or technologies. In turn, this potential for financial gain motivates individuals and companies to continue investing in research and development.

4. What are the consequences of not protecting intellectual property?

Failing to protect intellectual property can result in significant economic losses, such as others exploiting your IP without compensation, loss of unique market position, and dilution of brand identity. It can also lead to legal battles if disputes arise over IP ownership without proper registration or documentation.

5. How can intellectual property rights be used as collateral?

Intellectual property rights can be leveraged as collateral in financial transactions to secure loans or attract investment. Lenders or investors may accept IP rights as collateral based on their estimated value, providing businesses with necessary capital while retaining ownership and control over their intellectual property.

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