Best Practices

Glossary of IP Terms

Joshua Stackhouse

August 1, 2023

Glossary of IP Terms

Below is a glossary of IP terms. Many of the below terms are common across many industries. This list provides definitions specific to the term’s use within the context of the intellectual property industry. This glossary will be and edited and updated regularly (last update: August 1, 2023).

Intellectual Property

The government-issued and government-enforced right to the exclusive utility of a particular innovation (patents), a particular creative work (copyright), or a particular marketing/branding identifier — typically company names, logos, slogans, and even colors or color combinations (trademarks).


Acronym for Intellectual Property.


The geographic territory in which intellectual property is enforced by a particular governmental authority. These may be specific countries, or may be collections of countries (eg. the European Union, or European Patent Convention) that have agreed to  implement and enforce common regulations.


A government-issued and government-enforced right to the exclusive utility of a particular innovation for a set period of time. Patents must be applied for. Governmental departments (patent and trademark offices) evaluate each application and to ensure that it claims a unique innovation and that the applicant is the author of the innovation (or that the applicant legally obtained ownership of the innovation from the author).

Patent Family

The collection of patents owned by a common entity that pertain to the same innovation. Eg, the same innovation may be registered as patents within the USA, Europe, China, and Japan; the collection of those patents make up a patent family.


A component of a patent or patent application that refers to the specific aspects of an innovation that make it unique. These are the aspects that are protected by an active patent.


A government-issued and government-enforced right to the exclusive utility of a specific element of brand identity. Most commonly, trademarks apply to brand names, logos, and slogans. However, trademarks can also protect designs, shapes, words, patterns, etc. so long as the element distinguishes a particular brand from others. Trademarks enforce exclusive utility within specific industries, however larger (and therefor more recognizable) companies can enforce their trademarks with more ubiquity. Unlike patents, trademarks generally can be revoked if the owning entity is not actively using them.


The collection of intellectual property assets owned by a particular entity.


The procedure of renewing and maintaining a patent or trademark. This procedure normally involves paperwork and the payment of a fee. While some jurisdictions allow advance payment, many allot a period of time when renewals/annuities will be accepted. Failure to file and pay a renewal for an IP asset results in that asset lapsing. Depending on the jurisdiction, patent annuities and renewals are typically annual however some jurisdictions (notably the US) have an irregular renewal calendar. Trademark renewals occur less frequently (commonly every ten years). Patents can be renewed up to a maximum lifetime (most commonly 20 years), whereas trademarks typically can be maintained indefinitely.

Official Fee/Government Fee/Maintenance Fee

The maintenance cost applied by a governing body to a patent or trademark at regular intervals to renew and maintain the enforcement of said patent or trademark. Such costs must be paid to the governing body that enforces the patent/trademark or else the patent/trademark will lapse. Patent maintenance costs occur more frequently than that of trademarks.

Most commonly, patent maintenance costs occur annually (however, many prominent jurisdictions including the United States have non-annual patent maintenance schedules) while trademark maintenance costs most commonly occur once every decade. Patent maintenance fees can also fluctuate depending on the age of the patent (with heavier fees applied the older the patent). While governing bodies tend to use the term “maintenance fee,” attorneys and other IP professionals tend to use “Official Fee” or “Government Fee,” especially so as to distinguish the fee the government charges from any processing fees or service fees charged by agents or service providers.

Foreign Agent/Local Agent

An IP professional who resides within a specific jurisdiction and provides IP services specific to that jurisdiction (including, translation services, application filing and renewal and annuity filing). Some jurisdictions mandate that IP applications and/or renewals and annuities must be filed by an agent within said jurisdiction.  In such cases, managing parties outside said jurisdiction must utilize these agents for their filings.

Note: While foreign and local seem like antonyms, foreign agents and local agents are synonymous. The agent is “foreign” to the entity ordering the renewal, but “local” to the jurisdiction in which the renewal must be filed.

Foreign Agent Fee/Local Agent Fee

The service fee charged by a foreign/local agent.

Entity (Micro/Small/Medium/Large)

A government-designated size classification, used by some jurisdictions, pertaining to the size of the applicant company. Fees may differ depending on one’s entity size.


To evaluate one’s patent portfolio and discern which patents should be abandoned. This is a practice done to mitigate cost and can include abandoning whole patent families that have become obsolete, or abandoning patents in only certain jurisdictions. When pruning, one risks abandoning patents that might have future utility, or abandoning “parent patents” that help enforce recently developed innovations.


To electively allow a particular patent to lapse. This practice is usually done because the patent is no longer needed, or no longer worth the maintenance cost.


To terminate the legal enforcement of a particular IP. This occurs when renewal/annuity costs are not paid within the accepted payment window either wittingly or by error.

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