Three Ways to Help Protect Your Intellectual Property

Protecting your company’s assets is important. You likely have some form of insurance covering your property, products or employees. So, why stop there and not protect an idea, invention or your own brand? Strong protection over your company’s intellectual property is vital to the success of your business. While it may be complex, protecting both the physical and intellectual assets of your company is well worth the investment.

Traditional Protection
There are several forms of intellectual property protection that most entrepreneurs will immediately pursue: trademark, patent and copyright.

A trademark covers words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that identify goods and services. They are most commonly used to protect a business’s name, slogan and logo, which are identifiable brand assets of a company. A trademark does not expire, nor does it require registration, as it can fall under common law rights. However, registering a trademark is always recommended to avoid conflict, and it adds an additional level of protection by expanding the coverage to a federal level.

Another form of protection is a patent, which protects inventions such as machines, industrial processes and product formulas. While under the protection of a patent, the owner is allowed to exclude others from manufacturing, selling or using the invention in the United States. The process to apply for a patent can be lengthy and costly, as searching for existing patents is a labor-intensive process. Patents last for 20 years, and once they expire anyone can obtain access to the once-protected information.

Copyrights protect stories, songs, paintings and other artistic intellectual works. The important aspect to remember about a copyright is that it is the work itself that is protected, not the subject matter. Two songs written about the city of Chicago will not violate the other song’s copyrights. This form of intellectual protection does not last forever, nor does it need to be registered. Copyrights last the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years, and once it expires, the work becomes public domain allowing anyone to use it.

Additional Intellectual Security
Protecting your intellectual property beyond the traditional routes can save your company a lot of time and money. Investing in well-written, legally sound non-disclosure agreements (NDA) can allow a company to share its idea with another entity without jeopardizing the confidential information. A NDA can also keep industry practices and secrets secure by preventing the spreading of sensitive information to competitors via employees. While this alone will not protect your intellectual property, it is a good safety measure to add to your arsenal of protection.

Third-Party Partnerships
Most inventions and ideas are shared with more than one mind before they hit the marketplace. If you need to take your product to an outside partner – domestically or overseas – ensure they have strong security before handing them sensitive information. Any paperwork or electronic documentation of working with a partner should be labeled with a confidentiality notice or encrypted with strong security. Additionally, many lawyers will heavily suggest keeping a journal of the entire creation process. Having a detailed, written record of meetings, whom you met with and what was discussed will provide a useful tool to defend your property.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and with patents sometimes taking over five years to complete, starting the process now is advantageous to the future health of your company. The innate complexity of protecting your intellectual property makes it important to consult a legal professional to ensure you are properly protected.

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