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Apr 20

Intellectual property, patents, and trademarks: What’s that all about?

Posted on April 20, 2022 at 2:53 PM by Tracey Boswell

Intellectual property, patents, and trademarks: What’s that all about?

When you see an ad on your phone or look out of a window you will likely see a brand, an image, or a logo. These help us identify the ownership of ideas and things. The registration of these ideas and images are patents or trademarks. What’s the difference? What is intellectual property? It can be very confusing. This entry sheds some light on those topics with information from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  Information on copyright will be covered in a future entry.

Intellectual Property

ip word cloud

Did you create something? A story, a poem, a song, a picture? If so, then you own it. It is your intellectual property (IP). What you think up, you own! It’s the same if you have a business, work as an artist or musician, or are an amateur author. That creation is yours and you get to decide what to do with it and how, or if, anyone else can use it.  IP is everywhere! 


Did you invent something? A gadget, a design, a tool, or a lightbulb? If you did, you own that too. It is your invention. You can apply for a patent to protect your rights to use it, claim it, or make money from it. Patents have been around for centuries and are filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Here is a sample patent for a drone.


 You can find some more interesting patents here at Founder's or here at Interesting Engineering.


A trademark is an image, like a brand or logo, which represents a company or product.  Think about how many store and restaurant images you see when you’re in a car or watching TV. Like an invention, a trademark can also be registered to protect ownership. This prevents you from inventing a new soft drink and calling it Coca-Cola.generic cola

Can you think of a sound that you always recognize? Something from a TV commercial or show, or a ringtone? These sounds can be registered as trademarks too. You can listen to some of them here. How many do you know? 

mgm-logo- roaring lion

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has many resources and activities for kids, teens, parents, and teachers. There is a video that traces the history of the office and explains why we say something is “the real McCoy.” You can learn about young inventors, like Marissa Streng who invented a dog dryer. 

Picture-of-Marissa-and-dog dryer Marissa Streng and her  Puff-N-Fluff

To read the full definitions of patent, trademark, or copyright, read here. We will cover copyright in a future blog post. 

Have fun building your own mechanical grasping tool with this activity from the United States Patent and Trade Office.

cardboard and string grasping tool