Secure your intellectual property with these steps
The ideas, designs, inventions, and technologies that make up your business are the result of you and your team’s hard work and dedication. It represents the time, effort, and expertise that you invested. Protecting that investment is crucial to your business success.
Often, however, business owners find themselves in situations where their intellectual property protection strategy offers too little, too late, and the resultant intellectual property infringement can be disastrous. Here is how to protect intellectual property for your business:
It is never too early to think about intellectual property protection. Often, business owners are so focussed on setting up their business or developing their idea that they postpone thinking about intellectual property protection. Sometimes, a business’s intellectual property protection strategy is also deferred to save on startup costs. This is a big risk: without enforceable rights to your intellectual property, there might not be a business to grow.
As soon as you start implementing your business idea, you should think about intellectual property protection. In some cases, such as with patents, the law explicitly protects the inventor who filed for protection first, not the person who had the idea first. Early protection also allows you to use marks such as ‘patent pending’ on your products, thereby disincentivizing potential copycats.
If you start obtaining intellectual property rights before your company is incorporated, you can always transfer those rights to the company after its incorporation – don’t allow that to slow your intellectual property protection strategy down. Additionally, if you are in the early stages of developing a new idea/brand/product with a team be sure that the whole team is on the same page about where the intellectual property rights to the new invention will vest. It is usually a good idea to sign an invention/technology assignment contract with the entire team.
Choose the correct form of protection
There are various legal mechanisms with which to protect your intellectual property. Take time to ensure that you are using the best method of protection given your specific business:
Copyright protects the exclusive right of an author (or originator) of literary, artistic, or musical material to distribute and duplicate his/her work. Copyright is often overlooked by business owners as potential intellectual property protection – this is regrettable, as copyright protection offers several unique advantages.
Copyright can be used to protect websites, newsletters, music and even slide decks. Ownership of copyright arises automatically and is therefore immediately enforceable. Using the copyright mark © and registering the copyright with the USPTO is not a requirement for its enforceability, but serves to signal to the public that you are the owner of the copyright and that you intend to enforce that right.
Patent registration is a relatively expensive and lengthy process, but might be worth it, depending on your circumstances. Patent protection grants the IP holder exclusive right over an invention. The invention must be unique, nn-obvious, and useful. Software is often protected by a design patent, and not a utility patent.
Registering a patent with the USPTO will give you the exclusive and public right to commercialize your invention and might therefore be a requirement of potential investors.
Trade secrets are automatically protected, but only as long as they are secrets. In this regard, agreements with your employees, advisors and contractors form a crucial part of your intellectual property protection strategy. More on that below.
Trademark protection (called service mark protection in the case of services) grants you the exclusive rights to use your logo, branding, slogan, and/or symbols to mark your product or service. It is an essential part of safeguarding the commercial value of your brand. Trademark protection does not arise automatically, and must be applied for at the USPTO.
Mark your products and collateral
Although simply marking something does not in itself create intellectual property protection, it signals to the public that you do own the intellectual property rights, and that it is your intention to enforce those rights. Mark copyrighted material with a ©. In the case of patents, mark products with “patent pending” if you have submitted your application or provisional application. For trademarks, businesses can always use “™”, and if the trademark has been approved and registered with the USPTO, the mark for registered trademark – ® – can be used.
Create contractual safeguards for your intellectual property
Be sure to have carefully drafted non-disclosure, non-compete, invention assignment, and technology assignment agreements with your employees, consultants, and business partners. This will keep your trade secrets secret, and ensure that your company remains the owner of its products, designs, processes, and goodwill.
Online intellectual property lawyers
Let intellectual property lawyers secure your patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Make sure your original work is protected from unauthorized reproduction or use. LawTrades offer affordable, accessible, and expert legal assistance just the way you need it.