As small business owners, intellectual property is certainly one of your most valuable assets. If you are unfamiliar with the term intellectual property, also referred to as IP, it is simply defined as creations of the mind. For example, your brand name, logo, tagline, course content, client lists, are all considered intellectual property. Identifying your company’s intellectual property is necessary so you can take the proper measures to protect your IP, and eventually leverage it. There are four major pillars of IP: copyright, patent, trade secret, and trademark. When identifying your company’s intellectual property, each item should fall within at least one of the four categories.
Copyright protects original works of authorship, and gives copyright holders certain exclusive rights including the right to control who can reproduce, alter, and distribute the copyrighted work. Common materials that would fall under the pillar of copyright include; books and ebooks, website content, podcast recordings, speeches, presentations, webinars, graphics, literature, videos, and photos. By common law, once an author fixes the original work of authorship in a tangible form, copyright protection attaches. However, in order to enforce your copyright you will have to register the work on the federal level with the United States Copyright Office.
Patents protect new and non-obvious inventions, and allows patent holders the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention, generally for a term of 20 years from the date the patent was filed. An invention can be a product, machine, manufacturer, composition of matter, or even a process.
A trade secret is confidential and proprietary information that is valuable to a company, and reasonable safeguards are in place to keep the information a secret. Proper safeguards may include having employees and independent contractors sign confidentiality agreements or non-disclosure agreements.
Trademarks are any word, phrase, symbol, or design used to identify the source of the goods or services. Trademarks can include a company or brand name, product name, logo, slogan, or tagline. Similar to copyright, common law trademark rights exist; however, it is more beneficial and protections are more expansive with a federal trademark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A few benefits include preventing others from registering an identical or confusingly similar mark, providing nationwide notice of ownership of the mark, granting the right to use the ® symbol, and protecting your mark throughout the entire United States and its territories and possessions.
Every company should take inventory of all IP assets and ensure that they are properly documented. Once you have identified and protected your intellectual property, the next step is to leverage your IP and generate streams of income from it. Stay tuned for next month’s article to learn more about leveraging IP.
Visit www.sgarnerlaw.com for a free IP Inventory Checklist.