What intellectual property rights should business owners protect?
Define IP, IP types, and their differences, understand the benefits of IP protection, and discover how to get IP protection.
What Intellectual Property Means
Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, like inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Just like you can own a physical property, like a house, or a car, you can own things that come from our minds.
Real estate, computer equipment, and inventory are all valuable property. They’re tangible property you can touch and possibly move around. On the other hand, our ideas, processes, inventions, and brand name are also valuable property–they’re intellectual property, often abbreviated IP.
Many businesses spend far more on their intellectual property than their tangible property.
What is IP Protection
If you’re a business start up, you’ll want to know what intellectual property rights you have by law. If filed with the United States government, legal IP protection gives business owners certain exclusive rights to use their IP. In addition, according to the International Trade Administration, “if you have a registered IP right in the United States, these protections are territorial and do not extend to foreign countries.”
Why Business Owners should Protect their IP
The benefits of IP protection go beyond protecting your IP itself. When your IP is protected, your business reputation, competition, time, money, and efforts are also safe from harmful misuse and abuse. Discussed in further detail below, you’ll find the four primary benefits of IP protection.
First, IP protection helps to prevent others, including competitors, from stealing or infringing on the business’s ideas or creations. This is important because unauthorized use of a business’s IP can lead to lost profits, damage to the business’s reputation, and other negative consequences.
Second, IP protection can provide businesses with legal remedies if their IP is infringed upon or stolen. This can include the ability to seek damages or to obtain court orders to stop the infringing activity. It gives businesses the legal right to press charges and seek compensation when their IP is unlawfully used.
Third, IP can be a valuable asset for a business. For example, a business’s trademarks, copyrights, and patents can provide the business with a competitive advantage in the market, and can also be used as a source of revenue through licensing or sale. IP protection helps a business stand out in the market by differentiating its products or services from its competitors.
Finally, IP protection can also help a business to build and maintain a positive reputation in the market. Customers are more likely to trust and do business with companies that are known for protecting their IP and upholding their intellectual property rights.
Why is protecting intellectual property important? Think for example, about your business name and logo. The colors, font, style, and feelings behind it are brand characteristics that your customers relate to you. Your brand is your identity. What would happen if someone, not your business, started using your brand. Customers would likely become confused, lose trust in your business, and take their business to the other brand not knowing it isn’t you. On the other hand, if you file your trademark for your business, you will have the legal protection and right to sue for the infringement, protect your brand trust with customers, and be compensated for losses.
As you can see, it is vitally important to protect your IP because IP protection ensures that you can get the full value from the time, money, and hard work put into your investment. Businesses need to protect their IP.
Types of Intellectual Property
Remember that Intellectual property refers to mental creations. These are things that help businesses have a competitive edge and are protected by law. IP helps your business succeed.
There are several different types of intellectual property rights otherwise known as intellectual property law: trademark, copyright, patent, and trade secrets.
- Definition for copyright: a copyright protects words, graphics, and literary works, and includes things such as books, films, and songs.
- Definition for trademark: trademark protects a business’s brand name, logos, product name and symbols that identify a brand or product.
- Definition of service mark: a service mark, much like a trademark, protects your services unique to that brand or business.
- Definition for patent: a patent protects useful inventions, such as new technology or products.
- Definition for trade secret: trade secrets protect the secret processes and techniques you use to make your business competitive and successful. It protects confidential information such as a secret recipe or formula.
For example, Taylor Swift writes songs, performs them, sells them, and even licenses them to others. Her songs are protected by copyright. You can be sure that she puts great effort into protecting the copyright to her music. She also has a distinctive brand image and her name is one of the most respected and valuable brands in the music industry. She protects her brand through trademark.
Speaking of musicians, few people realize that Michael Jackson was an inventor. His most famous invention was “gravity defying shoes,” that made it look like he was standing at an impossible angle. He protected this invention by patenting it.
Another good example of trademark is Coke and Mountain Dew. Coke has distinctive white cursive lettering and bold red colors with a classic feel, while Mountain Dew has big bold letters and a green color base for branding. Each has their own trademark protections with colors, lettering, and experiences that are unique to their brand.
IP law helps encourage businesses to be creative and innovative. It allows them to control and profit from their creations, while also preventing others from unfairly benefiting from the use of their IP.
Trademark versus Copyright versus Patent
Trademarks, copyrights, and patents are all types of IP, but they protect different types of creations. Each protects a different type of creation for your business.
Here’s a brief overview of the differences between these three types of IP.
A trademark is focused on protecting words, phrases, symbols, and designs that identify and distinguish brand or product from other brands and products. Trademarks can be registered with the government to give the owner exclusive rights to use the mark in connection with certain goods or services. The benefits of trademark for a name, logo, or other brand symbols is that when any of those trademarked assets are stolen or infringed upon, the owner is legally able to sue and seek compensation for that IP as well as money made from the illegal use of the IP. A trademark protects a business’s identity.
Whereas a trademark protects with branding, a copyright protects words. If you create an original expression and write it down or record it on audio or video, you have a copyright. For example, I own the copyright to this blog. Copyright law gives creators exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and sell the work, as well as the right to create other works based on the original.
Patents are less about identity and branding, and instead focus on protecting new and useful inventions. A patent legally gives an investor the right to control the production, sale, and use of their invention for a limited period of time in exchange for publicly disclosing the details of their invention.
Trademark versus copyright versus patent lies in the types of IP each protects. Trademarks protect brand names and logos, copyrights protect creative works, and patents protect inventions. Each protects a different type of IP.
How to get Intellectual Property Rights
Businesses that are ready to provide additional legal protection to their IP will need to file with the US government. While this is not a requirement to own IP, it should be part of each business’s legal protection plan because of reasons we’ve discussed above.
While gaining IP protection is as simple as filing with the US government, if business owners do not file correctly, they will not get the full legal IP protection they otherwise could have had. That is why it’s important to contact someone who knows the law for intellectual property.
How to get a trademark for a name or logo
In the United States, trademark rights are granted on a first-to-use basis, meaning that the first person to use a mark in commerce has the exclusive right to use it. However, registering a trademark with the government can provide additional legal protections and make it easier to enforce your rights in court.
If you live in the United States or territories of the US, you can register your product name, business name, logo, and other brand symbols and names for trademark through the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Can you self-register for a trademark? Although, yes, you can get on to the US Patent and Trademark website and register your own trademark, they advise that you hire a trademark attorney. Attorneys for business owners can help you know if your trademark meets registration requirements, determine the best way to file for your trademark application, ensure that your filing encompasses all information to accurately identify your products and services, and much more. Find out more about the benefits of hiring an IP attorney to help you file your trademark.
Registering for a trademark can be challenging as the US Patent and Trademark will deny any name that is too close to an existing one to ensure that trademarked names and words do not become confusing to customers, investors, etc. Thankfully, trademark attorneys can be a valuable investment and vital help for applicants. They provide assistance in understanding how to get a trademark for a name and filing for a trademark that won’t get denied.
How much trademark costs depends on which filing option you choose. Registering a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office can cost between $250 and $350 for a single work as of 2023. Following fees for maintaining a trademark registration can cost $525 every ten years “per class of goods or services”.
How to Obtain Copyrights
Copyright protection arises automatically when an original work is created, as when a song is written down or recorded. However, registering a copyright with the government can provide additional legal protections and make it easier to enforce your rights in court. To register a copyright, a business or individual can visit the US Copyright Office website.
While registration is possible for people without an attorney, the benefits of hiring a law firm is that they will help you determine which of the 16 registrations you should use, know the licensing division services you’ll need as well as which other services that will best protect your IP, and much more. It is a good idea to contact a business law attorney for registering a copyright. This way, you will make sure you get the maximum benefit out of your words, graphics, and literary works.
How much does registering for copyright cost? Initial registrations fees as of 2023 can range from $45 to $500 with many options in between for various copyright types.
How to Get a Patent on Something
As with a trademark, to obtain a patent, an inventor must apply with the US Patent and Trademark office. The application process is an important and complex process that involves a lot of legal work.
According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, there are seven steps to the process of obtaining a patent.
- Step 1: Decide on the type of IP protection needed
- Step 2: Discover if the invention is eligible for patenting
- Step 3: Determine which kind of patient is needed
- Step 4: Gather necessary items for application
- Step 5: Compile and submit your first application
- Step 6: Communicate with the examiner
- Step 7: On approval, become legally patented
Each of these steps can be complex and difficult to understand for business owners. That’s why it is highly advised that inventors submitting for patents hire a patent attorney. Although people can apply for their own patents, the assurance that their patent would contain complete protection would be lacking. Because patent law firms are familiar with the process, they can help you determine what kind of patent you should apply for, compile important parts needed for application, communicate directly with the examiner in your place, and more.
It’s important to note that intellectual property rights can also be acquired through assignment or licensing agreements with the owner of the intellectual property. For example, an inventor may choose to sell or license their patent to a company that wants to use the invention in their products.
Hiring an IP Lawyer in Iowa
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