Succeeding in business is about more than having great ideas for products and services. Business owners must also be prepared to protect their livelihood from competitors who may want to steal those ideas. This is a crime referred to as intellectual property theft, which can occur for businesses of any size. The best way to prevent this situation from happening is to know about intellectual property rights and to consult with an attorney about protecting unique products, inventions, creative works, brand names, and other aspects of a business.
In the United States, there are several different types of intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Here are the basics on how these forms of IP are protected:
Intellectual property patents are designed to protect three different types of creations. Utility patents deal with any new or useful machines, processes, or other inventions; design patents protect ornamental designs on an object; and plant patents are used for any asexually reproduced plant, such as those created by geneticists and botanists. In order to protect intellectual property patents, they must be registered through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
In addition to the intellectual property patents protect, there are also trade secrets — a related form of IP that deals with products made by a company. A good example of a trade secret is the recipe of Coca-Cola or the spices used in Kentucky Fried Chicken. While trade secrets are a form of intellectual property, they are not formally protected by either the USPTO or the U.S. Copyright Office.
Trademarks refer to any logo (or service mark), name brand, product names, or other identifying features of a business or its products. The reason these forms of IP must be protected is so other companies can’t cash in on another’s name, products, or services in order to deceive consumers. For instance, several years ago many counterfeit Apple stores popped up all over mainland China, complete with Apple products for sale. Because Apple is a trademarked logo (and its products are patented), the company was able to put a halt to this practice.
Copyrights are unique in a couple of different ways. For one, they are used to protect written or artistic works — from song lyrics and novels to paintings and architectural designs. Additionally, they are registered through the U.S. Copyright Office, but this is more of a precaution for those who are publishing or displaying a work. Copyright is granted automatically, similar to the protections extended to trade secrets; however, it can help determine how a creator is compensated for his or her work.
If you have questions about ways to protect intellectual property, speak with an intellectual property rights lawyer about how to guard your inventions and creations from infringement or outright theft. An attorney should be well versed in the type of intellectual property you need to protect. Have any general questions? Leave a comment below.