Intellectual Property Protection
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It is absolutely vital that all companies, especially up-and-coming businesses, protect their intellectual property. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to have a proper understanding of the different types of intellectual property and the processes involved in protecting their assets. In fact, a company has a strong competitive advantage when they secure ownership to the exclusion of others. Intellectual property protection may be obtained under four distinct areas of law: patent law, trade secret protection, trademark law, and copyright law.

Patents- A patent grants the inventor the right to prohibit others from making, using, or selling their invention. The patent itself is a document that describes the full extent of the invention and its claims. Entrepreneurs are strongly encouraged to seek consultation with a qualified patent advisor who can guide and counsel them about the patent process.

For patent application rights filed after June 8, 1995, the inventor’s patent rights last for 20 years from the effective date of the application. In order to obtain a patent, the invention must satisfy three critical tests:

  • The invention must be new or novel.
  • It must not be obvious to a person knowledgeable in the area of the invention.
  • It must be useful.

In the U.S., inventors must file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office within one year of their invention. If the inventor fails to file a timely patent application, then another inventor, with the same invention, may obtain patent rights, and the first inventor will not be able to profit from it.

Trade secret protection- Trade secret is information that obtains independent financial value from not being generally known. The trade-secret owner must take precautionary measures to preserve the confidentiality of the trade secret. Trade secret protection will continue as long as such precautions are taken and the information remains confidential.

No application or registration process is needed. Trade secret owners are protected under state laws to obtain monetary damages from misappropriation.

Trademarks- A trademark is a word, symbol, sign, or device, or a combination of them that are used to distinguish particular goods or services. Trademarks generate much of the consumer awareness and association. As a result, they are considered a marketing advantage. Trademark protection applies without the need to file any registration for the goods or services; however, the rights are not as powerful when the trademark is not registered and could be limited by someone registering the same name or a similar mark.  

To register your trademark, you must file an application with the United States Patent Trademark Office. A federally registered trademark can have 3 advantages:

  • National ownership of the mark.
  • The ability to use ® next to the trademark, which indicates federal registration.
  • The ability to file claims against infringers.

Copyright- A copyright grants protection to authors of original works. Protectable creations include writings, songs, artistic and dramatic works, architecture, motion pictures, and computer software. The copyright Act gives the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works, distribute copies of the works, publicly perform, or display the works.

For works that were created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection rights last for the life of the author plus an addition 70 years. As with trademarks, copyright protection can apply regardless of federal registration (United States Copyright Office); however, copyright owners are encouraged to register their works so they can be eligible for statutory damages and attorney fees in successful litigations.

Securing ownership to the exclusion of others through patents, trade-secrets, trademarks, and copyrights are ways in which companies can protect their intellectual property. While some property protection does not need to be registered, companies are strongly encouraged to take advantage of such registration so they will be protected under the law and be able to profit from their discoveries.

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