A patent is an official government designation that grants to the assignee (owner of the patent) a right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale and importing the claimed invention. 

Duration of protection: 14 years (Design Patent) to 20 years (Utility Patent)


A copyright is a right granted by U.S. federal law that allows its owner to exclude others from:

  • Reproducing the work
  • Preparing derivative works
  • Distributing the work via public sale, rental, lease or lending
  • Public performance or display of the work 

Copyright arises automatically at the moment an original work is fixed in a tangible medium. Registration of a copyright is not required but does enable its owner to pursue infringers. 

Duration of Protection: life of the author + 70 years, or 95 or 120 years, depending on the nature of authorship

Trademarks and Servicemarks

A trademark (TM) or servicemark (SM) is used to protect a word, symbol or phrase, and in some cases, the color or packaging of a product. Trademarks are primarily used to identify the source or quality of goods or services.

Duration of protection: potentially forever

Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are protections afforded to certain information without formal registration but which must meet the following conditions:

  • The information must be secret;
  • It must have commercial value; and
  • It must have been subject to reasonable steps by its owner to keep it secret

In the university setting, it's often difficult to develop and maintain trade secrets because of our mission to share knowledge through publication and presentation. However, faculty expertise and knowledge may have value which could be transferred to third parties under a license agreement.

Duration of protection: potentially forever

Control of Materials

Protecting technologies such as biological materials (e.g. antibodies, cell lines, animal models, etc.) and research reagents might most reasonably be done by controlling their distribution. Often it is easier for customers to purchase materials and reagents rather than recreate them in their labs. Frequently commercial licenses for such technologies can be granted to companies for sale and distribution to the research community.