Intellectual property protection is critical to fostering innovation. Intellectual property laws help protect those ideas and concepts that underpin your startup. A major part of your competitive advantage and attractiveness to investors is how well defined — and well protected — your IP is in your startup’s portfolio.
What is Intellectual Property Protection?
Intellectual Property Protection is protection for inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, and images created by the mind. Learn how you can protect your intellectual property by using: Patents, Trademarks, Trade Secrets, and Copyrights.
Why Does Your Startup Need to Protect its Intellectual Property?
Your IP may seem intangible, but it’s likely among your most valuable assets. It has the ability to level the playing field between entrepreneurs and incumbents and is more likely to attract lucrative opportunities. By striking the right balance between the interests of innovators and the wider public interest, the IP system aims to foster an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.
When your business is young, it is at risk of having its ideas “borrowed” by competitors. Seek professional experience from an intellectual property attorney to help your company plan for success and avoid theft of ideas, designs, and other concepts. Since filing and refiling IP applications can get expensive and waste time if done incorrectly, determine what you need to protect when it comes to IP.
Four Types of IP Protection for Startups
If you are a business owner, you should familiarize yourself with the four types of intellectual property, otherwise known as IP.
- Trade Secrets
Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. It protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation
A patent is a right granted to an inventor by the federal government that permits the inventor to exclude others from making, selling or using the invention for a period of time. The patent system is designed to encourage inventions that are unique and useful to society. Congress was given the power to grant patents in the Constitution, and federal statutes and rules govern patents.
Most patents are valid for 20 years in the U.S. from the date the application was filed with the USPTO, although there are circumstances where exceptions are made to extend a patent’s term. U.S. patents are only valid in the United States and U.S. Territories.
There are three different kinds of patents: utility patents, design patents and plant patents.
- Utility Patents: The most common type of patent, these are granted to new machines, chemicals, and processes.
- Design Patents: Granted to protect the unique appearance or design of manufactured objects, such as the surface ornamentation or overall design of the object.
- Plant Patents: Granted for the invention and asexual reproduction of new and distinct plant varieties, including hybrids (asexual reproduction means the plant is reproduced by means other than from seeds, such as by grafting or rooting of cuttings).
A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.
The word “trademark” can refer to both trademarks and service marks. A trademark is used for goods, while a service mark is used for services.
- Identifies the source of your goods or services.
- Provides legal protection for your brand.
- Helps you guard against counterfeiting and fraud.
A common misconception is that having a trademark means you legally own a particular word or phrase and can prevent others from using it. However, you don’t have rights to the word or phrase in general, only to how that word or phrase is used with your specific goods or services.
You’re not required to register your trademark. However, a registered trademark provides broader rights and protections than an unregistered one.
Trade secrets are intellectual property (IP) rights on confidential information which may be sold or licensed.
In general, to qualify as a trade secret, the information must be:
- commercially valuable because it is secret,
- be known only to a limited group of persons, and
- be subject to reasonable steps taken by the rightful holder of the information to keep it secret, including the use of confidentiality agreements for business partners and employees.
The unauthorized acquisition, use or disclosure of such secret information in a manner contrary to honest commercial practices by others is regarded as an unfair practice and a violation of the trade secret protection.
Examples of trade secrets might include
- Soda formulas
- Customer lists
- Survey results
- Computer algorithms
Businesses use nondisclosure agreements, restricted access to confidential information, post-employment restrictive covenants, and other security practices to maintain trade secrets.
The Bottom Line
Developing a diligent and intelligent IP strategy early on is crucial. Because of the long-term economic benefits that it offers, startups and established companies cannot (and should not) neglect the importance of IP. In order to avoid disputes with IP resources, startups need to secure their technologies and lay the foundation for their future success.
Do You Need Helping Protecting Your Intellectual Property?
Contact Exemplar Law to take advantage of a free initial consultation with one of our skilled intellectual property attorneys. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
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