It is easier now than ever to start a business, website, create promotional materials, and even products. Some people are full of ideas. While being creative and starting a business are great things, you have to be careful not to unintentionally use someone else’s intellectual property. Everyone has ideas but having a truly unique idea is much more difficult. Here is a crash course in intellectual property for business owners or prospective business owners.
What exactly is intellectual property (IP)?
The definition of intellectual property (IP) is actually VERY broad. Technically, IP is any and every idea used in the course of business. That may sound…ridiculous. Obviously, there is overlap in terms of ideas from company to company. For example, Coca-Cola and Pepsi both produce various types of soda in cans, bottles, and bags (fountain soda).
Companies will always have things in common.
It is the ideas that have economic value that really get the attention of creators and the legal system.
What IP garners legal protection?
In theory, legal protection exists for every kind of IP but you can imagine the difficulty in court when two parties are arguing over who had an idea first.
There are four main legal protections when it comes to IP:
- Trademarks – logos, words, phrases, other symbols that specifically identify your company and/or goods and services.
- Copyrights – similar to trademarks, but copyrights protect the “expression” of your company’s ideas. This includes music, art, images, and more. Think of the “Kit Kat” song.
- Patents – typically protect a company’s unique products or details of the products.
- Trade secrets – all ideas that are specific to your company that result in economic benefit. Companies are unique in terms of how they conduct business, and some decisions can be of great benefit financially.
How to protect your IP
The obvious answer is, file for legal protection before your idea(s) leave the “circle of trust”. Different types of legal protection require various applications. Here are some of the legal filings:
- Trademarks – are inherently protected as soon as you start using them, but you may be able to formally file for protection in your state.
- Copyrights – can be federally protected by registering at copyright.gov.
- Patents – must be filed for at the federal level. It can be very complicated, and it is recommended that a lawyer is used. If you want quick protection, you can file for a provisional patent before pursuing a non-provisional patent. For more information, go to uspto.gov.
- Trade secrets – are inherently protected, but you are able to file for a patent on your proprietary practices. Ideas can be patented.
Perhaps the best way to protect your idea, is require the signing of a non-disclosure agreement by anyone who comes in contact with the idea. This gives you protection from day 1 and requires very little processing legally.
If your business is suffering, you need legal guidance. Elias Dsouza at Dsouza and Strachan Law Group has over 10 years of experience protecting businesses. Contact Dsouza and Strachan today for a free consultation.