The June 2024 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Test Your IP IQ

How much do you know about patents, trademarks, and copyrights, collectively known as Intellectual Property (IP)?

10 min read

Take this quiz to determine your knowledge of currents laws and regulations regarding inventions and creations.

1. Of the three types of U.S. patents, utility (which cover inventions that function in a unique way such as electronic circuits), design (which cover the unique appearance or ornamental design of an invention), plant (which cover plants that can be reproduced using cuttings or grafts), engineers typically apply for utility patents. They are granted for:

A. 10 years.

B. 14 years.

C. 20 years.

D. Life of Inventor + 10 years.

2. Who can file for a U.S. patent?

A. Any adult inventor who is a U.S. citizen.

B. A registered patent agent or patent attorney must file on behalf of the inventor.

C. Any inventor or the organization that sponsors, finances, or employs the inventor.

D. Any inventor.

3. What is true about applying for a patent in multiple countries?

A. An international patent application, in accordance with the 1970 Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), simultaneously consolidates filings, saves individual filing fees, and protects your invention while investigating its commercial possibilities abroad. When filing an application, you designate which countries you wish to apply for a patent in, and your application is automatically sent to those countries’ patent offices. Patents granted are only valid for those countries.

B. You must first secure a patent in your home country before applying for a patent in another country.

C. You must still file individual patent applications with each country even after applying for an international patent under the PCT and designating countries in which you intend to pursue a patent. An international patent application establishes your date of filing (that is, the priority date), but it does not substitute for national applications.

4. A U.S. patent application must contain the following:

A. Proof that a search has been made to determine if the invention is novel.

B. A claim that the invention is novel, useful, and non-obvious.

C. A working, physical model of the invention.

D. Proof of U.S. residency, but not citizenship, by the inventor.

5. In the United States and other countries, following the 1886 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic works and its revisions, copyright laws protect works created after 1 January 1978 for how long?

A. 20 years from date of creation.

B. 30 years from date of creation.

C. Author’s life plus 20 years.

D. Author’s life plus 70 years.

6. What most accurately describes a trademark?

A. An original literary work registered by a company.

B. A protected ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

C. A brand name.

D. A protected "original work of authorship" like a novel.

7. Which one of the following statements regarding patents and copyrights is false ?

A. You are paid to create something. If it is a song, the copyright belongs to your sponsor. If it is an invention, only you can patent it.

B. In either case, protection begins from the moment of creation.

C. In either case, any person, regardless of age or nationality is eligible for protection.

D. Both protect the creator from manufacture or copying by others without permission.

8. You have created an invention that you believe to be patentable but are unsure of its commercial value. You would like to patent it but want to test your invention in the market before committing the expense and effort of obtaining a patent. You should:

A. File a "provisional" patent application for only $80 and market the product using the notice "Patent Pending." You have a year to file a regular patent.

B. Copyright your invention because the fee is only $30 and file a patent application within two years. he copyright is used as a "temporary patent" until you decide whether to pursue a formal patent.

C. File for a patent and request a Temporary Fee Waiver, which postpones fees for one year.

9. A patent can be thought of as granting all of the following except :

A. Finite protection for up to 20 years.

B. A limited monopoly.

C. The right to exclude or prohibit copying or manufacture.

D. The right to keep the formula or invention secret.

10. According to the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and its revisions, if you are a citizen of one of its 140 member countries:

A. For 12 months after filing a patent application in one country, you can file in any other member country and your application date will be the same as your first application.

B. If your invention was patented in another member country by someone else prior to your application, you cannot patent it in any other member country, including your own.

C. Citizens of each member country receive the full duration of patent protection in their own country. Citizens of other member countries receive patents that expire in half that time.


11. The pre-invention assignment agreement or invention clause commonly signed by new employees in technology companies, confers to the employer rights to creations made by the employee:


A. But only in regards to patentable inventions.

B. Always excludes ideas or inventions you had before becoming an employee.

C. Never applies to ideas or creations you thought of at home, on your own time, even if they pertain to your field of work.

D. None of the above applies all the time.

12. The difference between a patent attorney and a patent agent is:

A. Patent agents are employees of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

B. To the USPTO, there is essentially no difference.

C. Only patent agents can draft contracts assigning patent rights.

D. Patent agents can file a patent application for themselves, but only a patent attorney can file on behalf on another person.

13. The average time to get a patent, according to the USPTO, is:

A. 25 months.

B. Five years.

C. 65 months.

D. Seven years.

14.True or False : I can use the symbol ® to claim my rights in a trademark before I apply for a trademark registration.

15. What is false regarding copyrights?

A. The e-mail you wrote to your boss yesterday is copyrighted.

B. Copyright infringement can occur even if someone does not make money charging for others’ copyrighted works.

C. Commercial copyright violation involving more than 10 copies and a value of more than $2500 is a felony.

D. Copyright protection is essentially nil unless a copyright notice (for example, "Copyright 2001 by Joe Blow. All rights reserved.") is given.

16. For how long can a patent be renewed after it expires?

A. Five years.

B. 10 years.

C. Patents cannot be renewed, but they can be extended under certain circumstances.

D. Patents cannot be renewed, extended, or adjusted for any reason.

17. What happens when two inventors individually apply for the same patent at the same time?

A. They generally become joint-inventors.

B. The PTO determines who gets the patent.

C. The patent application number determines priority. Applying for a patent "at the same time" is impossible.

D. The Federal Court System determines the first inventor.

18. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a patent granted in the United States is also valid for:

A. Canada.

B. Mexico.

C. Both.

D. Neither.

19. According to the USPTO, in 2001 the Top 10 Patenting organizations (based on the number of utility patents granted in the United States) were corporations from which three countries?

A. United States, France, UK.

B. Japan, United States, S. Korea.

C. Japan, United States, UK.

D. United States, Japan, Finland.


20. Assuming you’re an individual inventor, the basic fee you would pay upon submitting an application for a patent for an invention to the PTO is:


A. $370.

B. $740.

C. $2450.

D. $4640.

21. As a condition of receiving a U.S. patent, an inventor must give up:

A. Keeping the invention confidential, or secret.

B. The right to assign the patent.

C. Citizenship of a country other than the United States.

D. The right to sue the U.S. government for patent violation.

22. Before applying for a patent, you want to do a search of prior patents and publications to determine whether your invention is novel. Which of the following is not true ?

A. You can go to the Patent Search Room located at the USPTO’s facilities in Arlington, Va., which is open to the public.

B. You can use the Internet to do a Patent Search on the USPTO Web site at

C. You can search in one of more than 80 Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries that are located throughout the United States.

D. Patent Searches can only be performed by registered patent agents or attorneys.

23. Which is true about a U.S. patent application?

A. If you developed your invention while employed, your company must pay for your application.

B. The invention cannot have been patented in another country more than one year from the date of application.

C. It can only be filed by a registered patent agent or attorney.

D. Once filed, you may use the term "patent pending" for two years or until the patent is granted, whichever comes first.

24. The USPTO’s Disclosure Document Program can serve as evidence for the date of conception of an invention before a patent application is filed. Which of the following statements is false regarding Disclosure Documents?

A. The Disclosure Document is a paper disclosing an invention, signed by the inventor(s), and forwarded to the USPTO.

B. A Disclosure Document is retained by the USPTO for two years, then destroyed unless referred to in a separate letter in a related patent application filed within those two years.

C. Should a patent application subsequently be filed for the invention, the date of the Disclosure Document’s receipt at the USPTO becomes the effective filing date for the patent application.

D. Disclosure Documents are ironclad proof of date of invention.

25.True or False: If you file a patent application today, you can be confident that the USPTO will not publish the application until a patent is finally granted or rejected.


IP Quiz Answer Key:

1.C - 20 years. Before 1995, patents were granted for 17 years from date of patent issuance. Most countries, including Japan and those in the European Union, grant patents for 20 years from date of filing. Design patents are granted for 14 years.

2. D - Any inventor, regardless of his/her citizenship or age, may apply for a patent. A patent agent or attorney may file an application of behalf of an inventor, but that is not required. Only individuals may apply for a patent; companies and organizations cannot. Most countries follow the same regulations regarding age and nationality.

3.A is true . An international patent application automatically files an application in the member countries you designate on the application. The other statements are false.

4.B - Patents are granted for inventions that are novel, useful, and non-obvious. A patent search is generally performed by a patent attorney or agent engaged by the inventor but is not required by the USPTO. Working models are not required, but detailed drawings or descriptions are. There are no residency or citizenship requirements.

5.D - Copyright protection endures for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.

6.C - A brand name. An ornamental design describes a design patent. A protected "original work of authorship" and an original, company-registered literary work describe a copyright.

7.B - Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. Patent protection begins at the issuance of the patent. All other statements are correct.

8.A - Apply for a provisional patent. It allows filing without a formal patent claim or any information disclosure (prior art) statement listing other patents, publications, or applications referenced in the application for a fee of $80. It provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a regular, nonprovisional patent application. You can then use the term "Patent Pending," informing the public that a patent application is on file. You cannot copyright an invention, only literary or artistic works. Fee waivers do not exist.

9.D - Patents are not secret. A complete description of the patented invention is in the patent claim, which becomes part of the public record. A patent gives the right to exclude or prohibit copying or manufacture by others without permission, a kind of monopoly.

10.A - Filing in any member country secures that filing date in another member country for a 12-month period. The duration of patent protection does not vary due to citizenship.

11. D - None of the above applies all the time. Agreements vary by company, and laws vary by state and by country. Many agreements reserve to the employer any intellectual property creations conceived of by the employee–unless detailed in writing and agreed upon by the employer. Employees should closely inspect employee agreements and, perhaps, consult an IP attorney.

12. B - Any registered patent agent or attorney can practice before the USPTO, so, as far as patent application and prosecution goes, there is no difference. Neither patent agents nor attorneys are employees of the USPTO. Patent attorneys may draft legal documents such as assignments, through which the patentee grants rights to her patent to another organization, company, or individual, but patent agents cannot since they are not lawyers. Both patent attorneys and agents may file an application on behalf of others.

13. A - 25 months from date of application filing.

14. False . You may use the federal registration symbol ® only after the USPTO actually registers a mark]. in the name of the applicant, who can be an individual, corporation, partnership, or other legal entity, but not while an application is pending. You may use the "TM" (trademark) or "SM" (servicemark) designation to alert the public to your claim, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the USPTO. Putting TM or SM on a mark indicates your claim to ownership of that mark and, possibly, your intent to legally enforce exclusive rights for that mark.

15. D - The statement "Copyright protection is essentially nil unless a copyright notice is given" is false. Most nations follow the Berne copyright convention, including the United States, where almost everything created privately and originally after 1 January 1978 is copyrighted and protected, whether it has a notice or not. All the other statements are true.

16. C - Patents are non-renewable. When they expire, the inventions they protect may be copied by anyone. However, some pharmaceutical patents are extended due to the lengthy Federal Drug Administration approval process and Congress may extend some patents via a special act. Also, the life of a patent may be extended due to administrative delays, secrecy orders, or successful appeals if the inventor files an application for a patent term adjustment.

17. B - Patents are granted to the first inventor, regardless of the date of patent application filing. This is determined by the PTO based on chronological information provided by the inventors, such as Disclosure Documents or log books.

18. D - Neither. U.S. patent rights are only valid for the United States, its territories, and possessions.

19. B - Of the top 10 patenting organizations for 2001, seven were Japanese companies, two were from the United States, and one was from South Korea.

20. A - Independent inventors, small business concerns, and certain nonprofit organizations qualify for the Small Entity fee of $370, half the regular fee of $740 for a utility patent application. If the patent is granted, issuance and maintenance fees charged over the 20-year life of the patent run about $3700. Copyright registration filing, by the way, costs $30.

21. A - The confidentiality of the invention. Complete description of the invention (the patent claim) becomes part of the public record when the patent is issued. All other statements are false.

22. D - Patent searches can be performed by anyone. However, the practice is a difficult and complicated task generally, best performed by an experienced patent agent or attorney.

23. B - Inventions cannot be patented if it was patented in a foreign country more than one year prior to the application for patent in the United States. All other choices are false.

24. Cis false . A Disclosure Document does not affect the effective filing date for a patent application nor does it diminish the value of other proofs of date of invention.

25. False . Most patent applications are published 18 months after the filing date of the application. Once the application is published, any member of the public may request a copy of the application file.



21 — 25 correct answers Strong knowledge. Ever think about a career as a patent agent?

15 — 20 correct answers Good knowledge. Your IP knowledge is better than most.

8 — 14 correct answers Adequate knowledge.

7 and under Needs Improvement–or a good lawyer


Philip Marsh — [Registered] Patent agent, Burns, Doane, Swecker, & Mathis LLP, Alexandria, Va.

Glenn Tenney, CISSP Chair, IEEE-USA Intellectual Property Committee [CK]

Ruth Ann Nyblod — Editor, USPTO Today , and public affairs specialist, Office of Public Affairs, USPTO, Arlington, Va.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions