Intellectual Property Explained Trademark Patent Copyright

Do you have intellectual property? A creative work or invention that could be legally protected and provide a competitive advantage for your business?

It’s worth finding out if you’re unsure.

The worst thing you can do is not know if you have IP, fail to protect it, and lose it.

Let’s explore the basics of intellectual property and how you can protect it.

*Disclaimer: This content is intended to be general information and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult an attorney before making any intellectual property or other legal decisions.

What is intellectual property?

A thought or notion may be a great idea for a future product or service, but it isn’t intellectual property.

Intellectual property (IP) pertains to things you create with your mind; not the ideas themselves, but their expression. Names, designs, logos, automated processes, software, books, articles, music, etc., are potential IPs.

For a business, IP is an asset. It provides tangible value like equipment, inventory, or other physical possessions. And like physical assets, IP should be monitored and protected differently.

There are four primary ways to protect your IP:

– Copyrights

– Patents

– Trademarks (including design rights)

– Trade secrets

Intellectual property mistakes to avoid

Avoid common missteps such as thinking you don’t have IP, falsifying dates, or believing that registering IP isn’t a big deal.

How to protect IP when outsourcing software development

You may need to work with outside vendors or partners to get your business up and running. But how do you protect your intellectual property if it circulates outside your business?

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What is a trademark?

A trademark distinguishes your brand through words, numbers, symbols, or unique packaging.

Once registered, you can use the registered ® logo to notify the public that you own the symbol or name.

In the United States, you can also mark a trademark with a TM symbol, which means you claim an unregistered trademark.

If another company uses your trademark, you can sue for trademark infringement or take legal cease-and-desist action against them. If the trademark is not registered, the lawsuit will be more difficult.

Why trademarking is important

Learn the importance of conducting a trademark search, why different trademarks matter, and what it means if denied.

How to register for a trademark

Learn how to apply for a trademark on your own or with the assistance of an attorney.

Domain names and trademark law

Review outstanding trademarks before selecting a domain name to avoid legal conflicts.

What is a patent?

Patents protect new inventions and cover how they work, what they do, how they are made, what they are made of, and how they are made.

Patent protection is an act of the federal government and has to do with interstate commerce. Once approved, a patent provides exclusive rights to produce a product or use a process for up to 20 years.

If someone profits from claims to an invention you have registered with the U.S. patent office, your patent protection allows you to sue.

Should you patent your idea?

Learn what qualities make an idea patentable and how to know if it’s the right time to file.

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What to know before filing a patent

Become familiar with the patent application process before filing for a patent on your own.

How to profit from your patent

How do you make money from a patent? Starting a business is the obvious choice, but there are other ways to use your patent for a payday.

Large corporation patent strategies to use

By paying attention to the market, exploring broader protection, and investing in internal legal roles, you can find the same success using patents as a large and established corporation.

How to file patents in multiple countries

If you’re selling internationally, you likely need additional patents to protect your business outside of the U.S. Learn the basics of filing for and landing patents in several countries.

What is copyright?

Copyright protects original works of authorship like books, songs, movies, art, photographs, etc.

Copyright protects the actual expression of ideas, not the idea itself. The copyright terms can vary but generally last at least 50 years after the author’s death.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a visual copyright notice should contain three elements:

– The symbol ©, the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”

The year of first publication

– The name of the copyright owner

What are trade secrets?

Trade secrets protect confidential and proprietary information like customer lists, manufacturing processes, secret ingredients, etc. Trade secret protection lasts as long as steps are taken to maintain secrecy.

How to protect trade secrets

Physical security is essential if you have material qualifying as a trade secret or a prototype you are considering patenting.

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Keep any sensitive documents like recipes or customer lists locked away in a safe or other secure storage option, not lying around on a desk for any enterprising thief to find. For any prototypes you may have, ensure that anything you don’t want stolen isn’t left in plain sight.

Additional legal steps to protect your business

Intellectual property provides a competitive advantage when starting a business. So, don’t miss out on protecting your work, brand, or innovations by not knowing how to identify and register IP.

Contact an attorney for professional guidance if you’re unsure about any part of the registration process.

Want to learn more about how to legally protect your business? Check out these resources:

Small business insurance guide

– How and where to obtain licenses and permits

– Understand your tax obligations

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