The Basics of IP – What Entrepreneurs Should Know

Copyright word cloud

Copyright word cloud

Protecting your Intellectual Property is critical for any business, especially a new business.  But do you know what constitutes IP?

Merriam Webster dictionary defines Intellectual Property as:

:  property (as an idea, invention, or process) that derives from the work of the mind or intellect; also

:  an application, right, or registration relating to this

Intellectual Property (IP) is relating to the things you create from your imagination or intellect. Music you write, the next great invention you discover, the fantastic logo and tagline for your new business, or the literary work you just finished writing – these are examples of Intellectual Property.

The good news is that you are protected under the law so that as the original creator, you can sell and benefit from your creative process and protect others from theft or misappropriation of your work. In the United States Intellectual Property (IP) is protected by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. It is controlled by these government agencies and subject to changes in the law.

To be covered in all fifty of the United States, you must register your trademark at the Federal level, with the USPTO. However, you may decide to register your Trademark within the state you reside, if you do not believe you will grow your brand beyond the state’s borders. You will receive broader protection through the USPTO, but you may not require or need such protection. For example, if you own and run a local restaurant, you may not need protection outside of your state if you only plan on running and owning the one facility. It may not make sense for you to register your brand outside your state. Check with your legal professional to ensure you are registering for the protection most appropriate for your IP.

To protect your right to use and benefit from your creation, it is imperative that you file your IP to claim and register your ownership. Registering your IP is much like owning the rights to real property; when you are issued the rights to your IP, no one but you can have rights to use the IP. It is the same if you owned property; you and only you have rights to the property. While laws protecting your property are different than IP law, the purpose is the same – protecting what is yours.

Depending on the type of IP you have will depend on the different type of protection offered and the agency to file for protection. There are four main types of protection under the law: Copyright, Patents, Trademark and Trade Secrets.

To understand the difference between each of these types of IP protection, we’ve put together a basic explanation of each.

Copyright protection is for original works of authorship including the written word, songs, music and digital expression (like a radio broadcast) to name a few. Copyright protection is easy to obtain and lasts longer than Patents.

Patent protection lasts almost 20 years from the date of filing. A patent allows inventors to sell, license, use or manufacture their own invention. Patents may include any electrical, digital, mechanical devices or systems, software, technology, chemical compositions and even plants! Since some patents are included in other products, patents are very complicated and require the assistance of a skilled attorney when conducting a search or filing.

Trademark protection is most commonly used in business to secure and protect brand names, logos, tag lines, symbols and words used to represent a product, company or brand.

Trade Secrets are confidential differentiators of a product or process within a company, that are never released. The ‘secret formula’, the process that makes one product superior over others in the same industry are Trade Secrets if they are kept in confidence and steps are taken by the company to hide and protect those secrets. There is no filing for protection or time limitation on Trade Secrets like there is with other IP, yet there is protection if it is stolen, but only if the firm or owner can demonstrate they took steps to protect those secrets.

If you think you need IP Protection, remember that protection is based on geography; there is protection only in the countries where the IP is registered or granted. You can still be protected outside the United States, but you will need to take steps to file/register in those countries.

As with all things legal, we strongly suggest you seek the experienced counsel of an IP attorney to secure your needed protection.

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