Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property Protect those STCs! By Fred Workley July 2000 Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Manassas, VA. He is on the technical committees of PAMA and NATA and participates in...

Intellectual Property

Protect those STCs!

By Fred Workley

July 2000

As technical people, we constantly deal with data, like Supplemental Type Certificates (STC), but we don't spend a lot of time on how to protect the information, or intellectual property as is the case with STCs.

There are four types of intellectual property: patents, trade secrets, copyrights, and trademarks, and they must meet certain minimum standards before protection, in the form of exclusive rights, will be afforded. Legal wranglings can ensue if the property is not developed with these safeguards in place.


Patents protect mechanisms, electronic circuits, chemical compositions, formulas, and processes, and the protection for patents varies from country to country.

Generally, abstract ideas, business concepts, or formats, cannot be the subject of a patent. Patents for inventions are sometimes referred to as utility patents, whereas design patents are granted for internal business uses for both technical and commercial purposes. They apply to technical information used to manufacture, to carry out a process, or to produce a product.

Patents are intended not to reward routine advances that a normal, skilled mechanic or technician could make without exercising any ingenuity, but to reward advances that are unexpected in direction or result, and thus embody something more than the application of routine technical skills.

Trade secrets

Information that is not to be publicly known or not readily available from inspection or analysis of the available product or literature is known as a trade secret. While both technical and commercial information may be protected as trade secrets, technical information is more readily found to be the subject of protectable, confidential proprietary rights. Operating manuals that contain a business's collective know-how are covered under trade secrets. Trade secrets are not absolute property because if you let the knowledge reach an outsider through carelessness on your part then your rights to protect the trade secret will probably be lost.


Copyright protects the work product of writers and artists, including the authors of technical articles, operational manuals, and computer programs. Copyright does not protect ideas or concepts, but rather the specific artistic expression of those ideas. An operating manual may, as mentioned above, contain trade secrets, and the writing, which records these secrets, could also be protected as a copyrighted work. Copyright "originality" is different from the novelty required for patent protection. In addition, the degree of originality typically required is not great.


Trademarks are symbols of a business or product. They brand the reputation and identity of the goods or services on which they are used or used with a product. They protect the right of the established business to be free from unfair competition by those seeking to trade using their name or reputation. At the same time, trademarks protect the public from deception or confusion that could be caused by the activities of the copycat.

Protecting STCs

Supplemental Type Certificates are intellectual property and need to be protected against misappropriation. One of the first things that must be done in the planning stage of a new installation is to obtain the Approved Data Package, which will be available from the holder of the STC. You must have an authorization letter from the STC holder. This is your permission by aircraft serial number to use the STC for installation purposes. The ownership of the intellectual property doesn't change, but you have permission to make the installation using the approved data package.

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