Passing On Intellectual Property: Patents, Copyrights and Beyond

Did you know you could leave ideas to your chosen heirs? Intellectual property, that is not of material reality yet still of value, falls under the category of personal property and includes valuable ideas, works of art, and literature. If you want to include intellectual property in your estate plan but don’t know where to begin, let me give you a few pointers.

Since it’s considered personal property, you can bequeath your intellectual property to anyone. If you die intestate (that is, without a will) the property will go to your next of kin. If you choose, you can put the property into a trust to whatever beneficiary you prefer, be them person or organization. Some intellectual property generates passive income, and so putting IP in a trust allows it to bypass probate and also pay out to your beneficiary without making them responsible for the property.

However, you’ll want to keep tabs on any renewal dates so that the property doesn’t expire while going through the probate or estate administration process.

In general, patents expire after twenty years, copyrights after ninety-five years, and trademarks after ten. Trade secrets never expire, but if and when they become public they become void. Also remember the expiration date doesn’t change when the property is inherited, for example a ten-year-old patent will expire in ten years from the inheritance date, not twenty.

If there is a chosen executor or trustee of the estate, they are responsible for renewing copyrights and trademarks for the beneficiary.

The intellectual property you accrue over your lifetime can benefit your heirs for generations with the right estate plan. Work with an estate lawyer to determine how to best include intellectual property in your plan. If you don’t have an estate lawyer, our attorneys can answer any questions you have. Call our office at 724-841-1393 and schedule your consultation.