More important now than ever before, intellectual property (IP) is described as the foundation of any company because it protects their unique ideas, innovations and creativity which can eventually become top products.
If you’re looking for a guide to intellectual property, trademarks and why they’re important, you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll detail what exactly intellectual property is, how to obtain it and why you should trademark your business.
Defining Intellectual Property
First and foremost, we should identify what intellectual property is: it often refers to a product, idea or service invented by a particular person or organization. The inventors are able to claim the intellectual property so that they have rights and protections just as if it were physical property, like a house, car or boat.
Soft Intellectual Property & Trade Secrets
Soft intellectual property is a term you may hear in relation to the topic because it refers to copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. Confidential information that is commercially valuable is called a trade secret.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPP)
There are various types of intellectual properties, some of which include designs, artistic work and brands: these original designs, works or brands are the creator’s property over which the creator has intellectual property rights. IP protections prevent others from using your products, ideas or services without your permission. However, it’s important to note what type of IP you have so you can effectively protect it.
When you have an idea for an innovative product or business, sharing that with others could potentially jeopardize the success of your idea. To prevent someone from taking advantage of your IP, filing a formal or provisional patent application may be the right course of action. A provisional patent is good for those who have an idea for an invention but don’t necessarily have the resources or time to file a formal patent.
If you do decide to share your invention or idea at the next level, you could have them sign a non-disclosure agreement so that you know your intellectual property is protected.
Cease and Desist
On the other hand, if someone is stealing or using your IP without your permission you have the option to write a cease and desist letter. You may not need an attorney to write it, but the letter notifies the person of wrongdoing and what the consequences would be.
Types of IPP
The three most common types of IP protection include copyright, trademarks and patents. The U.S. Copyright Office reported that copyright protects original works of authorship, from artistic works like novels, sculptures, symphonies and even architecture and computer software in some cases.
Words, phrases, designs or graphics can all be trademarked and they represent what distinguishes your product or service from competitors. Gaining federal trademark rights involves registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Patents are also a popular subject especially with the development of COVID-19 vaccines. The patent process has existed for centuries and is a big part of United States history.
Trademark, Copyright or Patent?
Deciding which of three common intellectual property rights you need depends on your product, service or idea. For logos, brand names and phrases, you will likely want to trademark these. Conversely, copyrights are for creative works like books, movies or music. When it comes to new, useful and non-obvious inventions, patents are the way to go.
Obtaining IPP can be simple because certain protections exist upon creation before you register your work. On the other hand, registration can increase protection over your property. Some cases may require you to engage an attorney to certify your intellectual property is protected.
Getting an Attorney for Trademark
To register your trademark online, you can do this with the USPTO where they offer the option to search potential conflicts with existing trademarks that are already registered so that you can make sure what you’re trying to trademark isn’t already taken. If your trademark conflicts with a previously registered trademark, it can be rejected by the USPTO.
This is where an attorney can come in handy because they can offer advice on how to navigate potential conflicts. When it comes to infringement issues, you may benefit from hiring a lawyer in the case that you’re dealing with a case filed against you or you’re endorsing your personal trademark rights.
Getting an Attorney for Patent
It’s possible to write and file a patent on your own, it’s useful to have a lawyer to help cover future modifications or expansions that are difficult to see by yourself. Patent attorneys can save you strife later on. Some individuals choose to file a provisional patent application independently prior to finding investors and interest in their IP, and then hiring an attorney for the formal patent application.
The cost of your IP protection depends on the type of protection you need and how you file your trademark or patent. Another factor to consider is that the cost of securing intellectual property protection may also include attorney fees. More often than not, attorneys provide assistance with patents and trademarks, which makes initial costs higher but ultimately saves you money in the long run. However, be sure to look out for fees from renewing trademark and patent protections in the future.
Considerations for Intellectual Property
Specific situations may make the process of applying for intellectual property protections a confusing endeavor. There might be an overlap between trademark and copyright, or some works may defy categorization. We’ve listed some tips on how to protect different types of intellectual properties and what categories they fall under.
- Protect your architectural drawings by registering a copyright claim
- Protect your graphic design, aka works of art, using copyright claims
- Protect your blog content, which are considered original written works, with certain copyright protections when they are created. However you will need to register the blog entry so that you can enforce those copyright protections
- Protect your website, another work of art, through copyright law
- Tattoo artists have filed for copyright protection when it comes to their artistic work, especially when their work appears on prominent settings like television or film. However, there is some gray area in regards to who owns the tattoo.
- Protect original songs and recordings with copyright protections. Note that you can’t enforce ownership rights in federal court if you don’t register the music.
- Written works receive certain copyright protections as soon as they are written. Most parodies of pre-existing literary works can also be registered with the copyright office.
- Documented dance choreography that is either written or filmed can also be protected through copyright.
- Fashion labels often trademark their names and logos.
- Inventions or creations that employees make in the scope of their job are owned by the employer.
- While original software can be copyrighted, mobile apps can be patented.
What to Do When Your Intellectual Property Rights are Violated
The line separating influence or outright plagiarism can be a tricky one. This is where IPP comes in handy because they help outline those boundaries and allow people to protect their own intellectual property.
Should you receive a notice that you’re infringing on someone’s intellectual property rights, it’s best to take it at face value by investigating the claim and responding in a timely manner. The consequences of infringements could be steep financial losses.
How to Transfer Intellectual Property
Transferring your intellectual property rights to someone else is similar to transferring other types of property. Employers will often include IP agreements in employee contracts that explicitly define how inventions created within the scope of their work are technically their employer’s property. Intellectual property can also be included in an estate plan in the case of potential for generating decades of ongoing revenue. This can make IP a valuable asset in your estate.
Whether you’ve come up with a groundbreaking invention or written the next best-selling book, protecting your intellectual property is the first step to make sure that you are receiving the credit and benefits of your creation.
(Infographic Source: LegalZoom)
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