Intellectual Property Law
For many businesses, your most valuable assets aren't "things" you can hold in your hands, but the very ideas that set you apart from your competitors. Our Intellectual Property Services include everything from registering copyrights for your creative works to putting a plan in place to protect and monetize your brand and other trade secret information.
What is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property refers to creative works (as opposed to tangible property -- things you can hold or real property -- land and buildings). This area of law deals with what rights a person or business has when something is created, whether on paper, in music or film, a physical invention, or even confidential ideas.
There are generally 4 types of intellectual property
Copyright deals with content or what the law calls “original works of authorship.” Copyright gives the owner of the copyright (who may or may not be the original author or creator) the exclusive right to do certain things or give others permission to do those things, including: making copies of the work, making derivatives of the work, distributing the work, performing the work, or displaying the work.
Patents deal with inventions. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues patents, which are a recognition of the property rights that an inventor has in their invention. More specifically, a patent grants the inventor “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” an invention in the U.S. or importing the invention into the U.S. Patent rights are generally granted for 20 years from the date of the patent application.
There are 3 types of patents:
Trademarks protect branding. A trademark is a distinctive word, phrase, logo, or graphic symbol that is used to identify the source of a product or service and distinguish those products or services from other sources. In plain English, trademarks protect brand names, slogans, and logos. A service mark is a trademark that identifies the source of a service rather than a product. Trademark rights prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark on related goods or services.
Trade Secrets include any information that your business has that is valuable simply because it isn’t known to your competitors or the general public. This might include the customer list you’ve developed over the years, a secret formula or recipe, information about special deals with your vendors, marketing plans, unique processes, or any other proprietary information. The law protects trade secrets as long as they are subject to reasonable efforts to maintain their secrecy. However, contrary to popular belief, the law does not protect ideas once they are “out there” for the world to see.
How do I protect my business’s intellectual property?
There are many ways to protect intellectual property, and your ultimate strategy will depend on what IP rights you are trying to protect and how valuable the IP is to your business or nonprofit. But generally speaking, copyrights, trademarks, service marks, and patents should be registered. Copyrights are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Trademarks, service marks, and patents are registered with the USPTO. Trade secrets, on the other hand, are protected by using confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements and putting the right trade secret policies in place within your organization.
In addition to registering your trademarks and service marks, you can take steps to protect your branding by registering your business and trade names and obtaining the relevant domain name registrations and social media handles.
Because intellectual property rights generally include the right to control what others can or cannot do with your IP, businesses can also protect their IP rights by entering into appropriate licensing agreements that dictate how and when others use your IP.
And when you work with others (whether employees, independent contractors, or third parties), make sure your contracts clearly identify who will own any intellectual property that gets created.