To survive and grow, all businesses need to know how to protect, manage, and utilize intellectual property (IP) assets - and how to avoid conflict with the IP rights of others.
Identifying Intellectual Property You Need to Protect
Intellectual property (IP) could be your most valuable asset on your business' balance sheet, so it's wise to secure your original IP just as you would any of your physical assets. This is a complex area; be sure to consult your attorney.
An item of IP can be anything from an original idea for a product, to new features, a unique look or uniquely identifiable logos or slogans. Each can provide you with competitive advantages and needs to be protected.
Understanding how to protect one's intellectual property is essential for all US businesses – it helps you protect your ideas and prevent you from accidentally violating someone else's.
- Prevent competitors from using and selling your business' products or services
- Help differentiate your offering from the competition
- Support your business' expansion into new markets
A patent is the grant of a property right to the inventor. Patents are granted for new, useful and non-obvious inventions for a period of 20 years from the filing date of a patent application. U.S. patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It doesn't need to be a product that you sell. It could be any innovation that adds value to your business – for instance, a process that you use in production.
Patents could cover:
- A new invention
- A process
- Composition or any new and useful improvement of an existing invention
Because the rights to a patent are transferrable, you can profit by selling it, licensing it or using it as an asset to negotiate funding. If your business has patented processes or systems, it can increase the sale value of your enterprise.
A trademark protects words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others.
Registration of a trademark is not required in the U.S., although there are benefits to obtaining a Federal trademark registration through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Trademarks are territorial; unlike the United States, most countries require registration of trademark rights.
A trademark is often defined as:
- Phrases – such as mottos
- Designs – such as logos
A trademark can help create value for your business or brand – whether it's a farm, legal practice or other service.
Copyright is a form of protection provided to creators of original works including literary, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. A copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. The U.S. Copyright Office handles U.S. copyright registrations.
Owners of copyrighted works seeking protection in other countries should first determine the extent of protection available to works of foreign authors in that country. There is no such thing as an "international copyright" that will automatically protect an author's writings throughout the entire world.
Be careful not to violate other copyright
Businesses also have to be alert that they don't violate the patents or copyright of others. This often happens inadvertently, when businesses don't have a full understanding of the law.
You need to ensure, for instance, that you have the legal right to use a photo in a brochure – so if you want to produce pamphlets or advertisements for your professional practice, consider this as you create these pieces.
By knowing the rules about patents and copyright, you can protect your own works and innovation as well as shield your business from legal difficulties. If you're seeking to protect your innovations or require further clarity on intellectual property matters, remember to consult with a legal professional for advice.
Protecting trade secrets
Trade secrets vary, but can include formulas, patterns, customer information methods, techniques or process that is used in business and has economic value by providing an advantage over competitors.
You can protect your best kept secrets by adopting proactive measures such as:
- Limiting the amount of information you share with competitors at trade shows or associations
- Storing data securely – such as on a protected server or in the cloud rather than physically
- Using confidentiality agreements when drafting contracts or engaging new stakeholders
- Contact us to see how we can help you protect your business