1. Introduce intellectual property.
Explain to students that intellectual property protects creations of the mind. Tell them that intellectual property is divided into three categories:

  • Copyrights (©) protect original creations, such as books, video games, movies, characters, and music. They give only the author “the right to copy.”
  • Patents protect inventions, such as new pharmaceuticals and airplane designs, for a period of time.
  • Trademarks (™) protect the distinctive signs or logos used to distinguish different products or services.

Ask students to think of specific, present-day examples of each. List them on the board.

2. Have students investigate intellectual property.
To better understand how different types of intellectual property play a role in their daily lives, ask students to do one of the following:

  • Complete an invention search at school, at home, or at the grocery store. List as many inventions as possible within a given area. If it’s unclear whether or not something is an invention, look for patent numbers on products.
  • Keep track of the trademark names and/or company logos that you see between the time you leave your house in the morning and the time you go to bed at night.
  • Conduct a copyright search by looking for the © copyright symbol on items in your classroom or bedroom.

Have students report back to the class with their findings.

3. Have students create their own intellectual property.
Ask students to draw or make a model of their own invention and give it an appropriate name. Have the class classify each piece of intellectual property as needing a copyright, patent, or trademark.

Extending the Learning

If possible, have students watch the National Geographic film Illicit: The Dark Trade. An excerpt of the film is provided in this activity. Go to the PBS website to find out where you can get the full DVD.

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • define
  • describe three categories of intellectual property
  • identify examples of intellectual property in their daily lives
  • create their own examples of intellectual property

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Hands-on learning

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Geography Standards

  • Standard 11:  The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface

Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics

  • Standard 3: Allocation of Goods and Services:  Different methods can be used to allocate goods and services. People acting individually or collectively through government, must choose which methods to use to allocate different kinds of goods and services.

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Colored pencils
  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Pens

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Optional
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector, Speakers
  • Plug-Ins: Flash

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Grocery store
  • Home


  • Large-group instruction

Other Notes

Ideally, students will complete this activity over 2-3 days.

Background Information

Intellectual property is a legal concept that protects creations of the mind. Examples of intellectual property include inventions, literary works, original songs, or corporate logos. Historically, intellectual property was a less important part of the economy. In today’s global economy, intellectual property has growing importance.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Activities

  • None



legal ability to make copies of artwork, usually restricted to the owner or creator of the artwork.

intellectual property

material created by creative thought that is protected by trademark or copyright.


legal right to make or sell an invention.


word or symbol used by manufacturers to label their products.