When you create something, you expect to be able to choose whether or not you own it for yourself or you wish to share it with the public at large. Private companies can do the same thing. If you choose to own a creation for yourself – whether it be art, an invention, a formula, or a service – you need legal intellectual property (IP) protections.

But what if the government commissions or creates a piece of art, formula, or other form of IP? They’re a public organization. Does anything they and their different branches create go into the public domain, or is the government treated like a private organization? Is it the same across federal, state, and local levels? The IP attorneys at Emerson Thomson Bennett can explain.

Understanding Government IP

Government IP refers to any intellectual property owned by a government entity. This can include any federal agency or a state government. These creations are usually funded and created by the government to benefit the public rather than private individuals or companies in some way or another.

Differences from Privately Held IP

One key difference between government IP and privately held IP is ownership. Private individuals and/or companies own their IP and have exclusive rights to use, sell, or license their creations. 

In contrast, government IP is owned by the public and is not subject to individual ownership. The only form of IP protection that the government uses is trade secrets. They use these to protect the private information and inventions of the government against enemies, foreign and domestic. 

Since trade secrets are not something an entity files but more a tactic an entity uses, the government uses it to protect things like weapons and technology research. Due to the nature of these trade secrets, the amount of people who have to know about them to justify the end of the trade secret is much higher than for a private business’s trade secret.

Pros of Government IP

There are several benefits to government-owned IP. One major advantage is that it can be used for public good rather than private gain. This means that government-owned IPs can be made freely available for public use, encouraging innovation and progress, allowing for greater competition, and dissuading consumer abuse.

For example, the nation’s famous space-faring organization, NASA, developed its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whose technology led to the development of: 

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • CT Scans
  • CAT Scans

Since it was NASA who developed the technology, any medicinal company could use it. There was no monopoly on a technology that would later also be created to help hospitals treat patients.

Contact the Attorneys at ETB Law For Help With Your IP Protections

Government IPs play a crucial role in promoting innovation and progress for the public good. However, some challenges come with this type of IP ownership. As society continues to evolve and technology advances, it is important to carefully consider the pros and cons of government-owned IP to find the right balance for everyone’s benefit. If you’re unsure whether you can utilize a government IP to help your project, consider talking to the intellectual property attorneys at ETB Law. We’re here to help, so contact us today.



We provide complete intellectual property representation to business owners, inventors and artists in all matters related to the establishment and protection of domestic and international patents, trademarks and copyrights. Attorneys at our firm also serve as in-house IP counsel for companies whose needs do not call for a full-time internal position.






"*" indicates required fields

How would you like to be contacted?*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.