This article was created by BlogHer for LegalZoom.
Intellectual property (IP) can be anything and everything. From a piece of music, a novel or advertising slogan to a formula or an invention. And just like physical property, intellectual property also needs to be protected.
As a business, you’re constantly exposing employees to trade secrets and are also at risk of infringement, meaning a third party could prevent you from using your intellectual property, such as your name or logo. That’s why it’s more important than ever to have an IP strategy in place.
According to The Business Journal, one of the main reasons IP protection is so important is because intellectual property rights and registrations allow companies to protect their core business and research and development activities, while creating a stronger negotiating posture for cross-licensing and counterclaims. Intellectual property rights and registrations also allow a company to block competitive products, dissuade potential entrants and clear a technological path for future market share.
Protecting your company is just one of the benefits of registering intellectual property. Doing so also allows your business to build value because intellectual property is counted as an asset when determining the value of a company and can even be used as collateral for a loan.
How to protect intellectual property depends on what type of intellectual property it is (there is a such thing as soft intellectual property too). It’s not always easy to determine the best type of protection, but looking at LegalZoom’s breakdown is a good place to start. Essentially, the four main ways to protect intellectual property are: trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets. But to know what type of protection to use, you need to know the different types of intellectual property that businesses have and don’t think of protecting.
Written and artistic works
If your business uses any form of of original literary works such as novels, poems, plays, reference works, newspaper articles or artistic works such as paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculpture, you’ll want to get copyright protection. But note that this type of protection extends only to expressions, and not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts.
Businesses should use this type of protection to prevent others from duplicating their work (unless they have the permission of the business). And if someone illegally uses their work, they have the ability to bring him or her a lawsuit. Copyright protection lasts the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years.
Logos and pictures
Intellectual property also applies to a word, phrase, picture, logo, or combination of these. For this type of IP, businesses should seek trademark protection. Trademark protection prevents others from using the mark, or a similar mark that could potentially be confused with your mark, which could be deemed very helpful if you’re in an industry with a lot of competition.
Applying for a trademark requires stating the type of business in which the mark will be used. It’s important to note that protection usually only applies to those in the same class of business from using the mark. To maintain a registered trademark, you will need to file proof that you are still using the mark every 10 years.
An invention is categorized as a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. Other than the obvious for someone else stealing credit for your invention, getting protection for this type of IP is beneficial so businesses can prevent others from using or selling it without their permission.
Patent protection is available for inventions, but they also extend to new materials, new processes, or new combinations or modifications of existing patents. These are called utility patents and include patents on computer program code and algorithms. It’s important to note that although algorithms on their own cannot be patented, you can patent the software process underlying the algorithm.
This type of IP falls under the industrial designs category. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, an industrial design constitutes the ornamental aspect of an article. An industrial design may consist of three dimensional features, such as the shape of an article, or two dimensional features, such as patterns, lines or color.
They are applied to a wide variety of products of industry and handicraft items such as packages and containers to furnishing and household goods, from lighting equipment to jewelry, and from electronic devices to textiles. They may also be relevant to graphical user interfaces (GUI). In most countries, an industrial design needs to be registered in order to be protected under industrial design law as a “registered design”. In some countries, industrial designs are protected under patent law as “design patents.”