Whether you’re a small business owner or an entrepreneur, you need to know how to protect your intellectual property (IP). IP is anything that’s created by you or your employees that has commercial value, including inventions, designs, processes, and brand names. If you don’t take steps to protect your IP, someone else could steal it and reap the rewards. Here’s what you need to know about protecting your IP.
Different Types of IP Protection
There are four main types of IP protection: patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Patents give you the exclusive right to make, use, and sell an invention for a certain period. This can also be applied if you have a new process, machine, or design. To get a patent, you must file a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The application must include a detailed description of the invention as well as claims that explain what makes the invention new and unique.
In the US, a patent usually lasts for 20 years from the date you apply. However, there are some circumstances where the term can be extended. For example, if there’s a delay in the patent office examining your application, or if there’s a delay in the FDA regulatory process.
The patent process can be costly and time-consuming, but it’s worth it if you have a unique invention. To look up a US patent, you can use the USPTO’s patent database. This can help you see if someone has already patented your idea and if you might be able to get a patent for it.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship, such as books, movies, music, and software code. You don’t need to register your work with the government to get copyright protection; the protection is automatic once the work is created in a fixed form. However, registering your copyright can give you additional legal protections if someone infringes on your work.
Additionally, you can license or sell your copyright to someone else. For example, if you write a book, you could sell the movie rights to a studio. This can be a great way to generate additional revenue from your work.
Trademarks protect words, phrases, logos, and other symbols that identify your business or products. To get trademark protection, you must register your trademark with the USPTO. Once your trademark is registered, you can use the ® symbol next to it to indicate that it’s protected. Registering your trademark can be costly and time-consuming, but it’s worth it if you have a strong brand you want to protect from infringement.
There is no set expiration date for trademarks, as they will last as long as the owner continues to use them in commerce. Once a trademark is registered with the USPTO, the owner must continue to use it to keep the trademark protected. This can be difficult if the trademark is not actively used in commerce.
Trade secrets are information that has commercial value because it’s not known to the public. Examples of trade secrets include formulas, patterns, compilations, programs, devices, methods, techniques, processes, or codes. To protect a trade secret, you need to take steps to keep it secret; for example, you might require employees to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
Trade secret protection can last indefinitely as long as the information remains secret. However, if the information is revealed to the public, it will no longer be protected. Trade secrets can be a great way to protect your IP without incurring the costs of patent or trademark protection.
Maximizing Your IP Protection
One of the best ways to protect your IP is to take steps to maximize its value. Here are a few tips:
- Keep your information secret. If you want to protect a trade secret, you need to take steps to keep it secret. This means requiring employees to sign NDAs and the information locked up and away from prying eyes.
- Register your trademarks and copyrights. Registering your trademarks and copyrights with the government provides added legal protection if someone infringes on your intellectual property.
- Use the ® symbol. Putting the ® symbol next to your trademark indicates that it’s protected by law. Just ensure that you only use the symbol if your trademark is registered with the USPTO.
- Consider hiring an intellectual property lawyer. This is a wise investment because these lawyers can help protect your intellectual property (IP) and maximize its value. They can file patent applications, have your trademarks registered, and keep your information confidential. They can also provide legal advice if someone infringes on your IP.
No matter what type of IP you have—inventions, original works of authorship like books or movies, a strong brand name or logo, or confidential information —it’s essential to take steps to protect it from being stolen by others who would reap the rewards without putting in the hard work themselves. So make sure to keep your information confidential, register your IP with the government, and consider hiring an intellectual property lawyer to help you protect and maximize the value of your valuable IP assets.