There are three types of intellectual property that most people know about: Trademarks, copyrights and patents. The fourth one, trade secrets, can be just as important but, like a well-kept secret, very few people know about this one. We will dissect each of the four in this column.

A trademark is a word, phrase or symbol which identifies the source of the product and distinguishes it from others. Trademarked product names or company names are shown with the TM symbol, usually written in a smaller font.

EXAMPLE: Invention Mysteries TM

Sometimes you’ll see the ® symbol after a brand name, which indicates that the trademark has been registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (U.S. PTO).

Trademark rights arise from either using the mark in public OR from filing an application to register it with the PTO. The first one to use or file the trademark has the rights to it. The unauthorized use of another’s patent, trademark or copyright is called “infringement.” When this happens, result is usually litigation through the courts.

A service mark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies the source of a service rather than a product, and the service mark distinguishes it from other services. The symbol for a service mark is SM which, like a trademark, is also written in a smaller font.

EXAMPLE: GE’s We Bring Good Things To Life SM

A registered trademark is a trademark or service mark that has been registered with the USPTO. The symbol for a registered trademark is ®.

Certain items are not eligible for a trademark, such as: letters, numbers, slogans, colors (Owens-Corning’s pink for insulation). The filing fee for a trademark is $245.