Whether you are an independent entrepreneur or part of a new startup, it is absolutely vital to have a basic grasp of intellectual property (IP) law so that you can avoid having your ideas stolen or flushed out of the market by competitors.
Luckily, there are four main areas of IP law to help cover just about anything that you could need to protect.
Here are those four areas that can help save you and your original ideas from disaster!
Patents are perhaps the most intensive part of IP law because of how much work goes into receiving one. They are also the central part of bringing a new idea to market to avoid it being stolen.
Filing a patent can be an expensive, grueling, and complicated process; however, a seasoned patent attorney can help guide you through the steps. Luckily, most firms offer free consultations so you will be able to find your best option while receiving informed opinions on your idea and ambitions.
Basically, patents grant an inventor the sole right to their invention for a limited time, essentially granting them a temporary monopoly. While this won’t keep competitors out of their way forever; it does give an ample amount of time to secure a spot in the marketplace before larger, more recognizable businesses with greater resources, influence, and experience can swoop in and devastate your sales.
JD Houvener, a patent attorney lawyer who founded Bold Patents, has seen many entrepreneurs face the frustrating disasters that can happen when they put off filing for protection:
“One disaster that can often be spurred by not obtaining a patent would be bringing your item to market and waiting too long to protect it. Waiting longer than a year will cause the invention to be considered public knowledge and no longer eligible for a patent.”
This can happen if an inventor isn’t overly confident in the potential of their invention and wants to do a sort of “test run” before going through the patent process. Unfortunately, this mistake has forced many businesses to compete in leagues they weren’t ready for and eventually, either face bankruptcy or find a different invention to push.
The area of IP law protected by trademarks is anything in the realm of branding (logos, slogans, names, etc.).
The ultimate goal of trademarks is to provide definitive signals to prospective customers so that they can discern between manufacturers and weigh the reputation of the respective brand when making their purchasing decisions.
On the seller’s end, it helps to protect original ideas and maintain the integrity of the brand they promote by preventing others from using deception to steal sales or profit off of their original concepts.
Many things can be protected under trademarks, including things like packaging, labels, advertising materials, sounds, smells, and many other traits that can be determined to be a signature of a brand.
Registering a trademark is not a requirement to have protectable rights under common law. But, registration does provide benefits to the brand by the way of recording your U.S. registered mark with Customs and Border Protection (preventing importation of infringing foreign goods), the right to use the ® symbol, the right to take action against infringement in federal court and using the registration as a platform to seek protection in other countries.
If you are looking for IP protection specifically pertaining to creative works of art (music, artwork, writing, etc.), then you are thinking of copyrights.
Copyright protection is a fairly vast domain since there are so many different ways that artists can express themselves and therefore, many different types of work to protect. According to copyright law, Congress is supposed to promote the growth and progress of knowledge by temporarily securing an author’s rights to their writings.
Of course, this now pertains to more than literal writings as it did during the time of the Founding Fathers, protecting original works in “any tangible medium of expression” as stated in 17 U.S.C. § 102.
To be considered the author of an original work and receive copyright protection that gives you the exclusive right to reproduction, distribution and public performance/display, an individual must independently create that work with some minimal degree of creativity and uniqueness.
Authors do not have to register their work to receive copyright protection as it is considered their intellectual property the moment they can prove they created it (such as when they post a picture of their artwork online). That said, in order to sue another party for instances of infringement, the author will have to officially register the copyright.
The final important area of IP law that can keep you and your business from disaster would be trade secrets.
Basically, trade secrets surround the means of conducting business or manufacturing that are critical to giving you an edge over the competition. It can be as fascinating and exciting as a secret formula or as dull as vendor lists.
The only the things that matter are that the secret or secrets have their own economic value and significance and that there is reasonable effort to maintain secrecy.
Officially filing trade secrets gives you the right to pursue legal action against any individuals or entities who breach your trust and let the secret slip to become public knowledge.
No matter how you protect your intellectual property, be sure that you are informed and ready to defend yourself against possible cases of infringement.
Many businesses will utilize all four of these areas to protect different aspects of their brand and company. But even if you only copyright an original idea, trademark your branding, patent your original invention, or protect your strategies through trade secrets; you will still be much better off than someone who is in the dark about IP law altogether.
Take the next step in making sure you protect your ideas and look into IP protection today!