When you create something, be it an invention, artistic work, or anything else that is unique to you, it is vital to protect it. But it can be confusing to know exactly why, how, or when to do so. At the law firm of Paul Yee, we understand and want to help. Keep reading to find out the whys, when’s and how’s of protecting your intellectual property.
What is considered “Intellectual Property” anyway?
Intellectual property refers to tangible creations of the mind. These can be such things as inventions or literary or artistic works. It also covers business creations such as symbols, names, and images used by your company, such as logos or slogans.
Generally, intellectual property is split into four categories:
- Patents – patents protect inventors from having their creation sold or used for profit by other people or entities. It also gives the patent owner the sole right to commercialize or license their invention.
- Trademarks – trademarks are usually distinctive signs, slogans, or symbols used by a business or company that makes the business recognizable. For example, the Apple logo is an easily recognized trademark for Apple products.
- Copyrights – copyrights protect tangible forms of creations, such as artwork, architectural drawings, and even software code.
- Trade Secrets – trade secrets are the intellectual property of a business, such as systems, strategies, or formulas. Essentially, it protects anything not meant for commercial use outside the company.
Why you should protect your intellectual property
Intellectual property protection is essential to businesses of all sizes. Even huge corporations are victims of copyright infringement or even outright theft from time to time. For many companies and creators of all types, intellectual property protects more than just an idea or a concept that someone worked hard to develop. It also protects legitimate business assets that, if others appropriated them, would lead to lost business and could negatively affect future business prospects. When other people can grow or profit from your idea, your business suffers.
Also, every business must have a web presence to be competitive. For as helpful as the internet is to help small businesses grow, making it cost-effective to offer products and services, and to market themselves, it also increases the chances of intellectual property theft. Your company’s products, ideas, and symbols are available worldwide, making it crucial that you take steps to protect your intellectual property as soon as possible.
If you are hard-working and have an excellent idea for a product or service, there will always be others out there who will want to duplicate your success and even pass your ideas off. When that happens to you, you can use intellectual property protections to prevent your competitors from using your ideas or creations without your consent.
Particularly for small businesses, it is vital to protect your unique products or services that you own. In the hands of unscrupulous competitors, they can use it to claim market share that should rightfully be yours. Your business could suffer from delayed growth or loss of revenue, which can be devastating for a small business, especially early on. Without intellectual property protection, trying to chase down the guilty party can be expensive and time-consuming.
When you should protect your intellectual property
It is crucial to keep in mind that no one will check to ensure that your intellectual property has been infringed. It is the responsibility of every business owner or creator to make sure that no one is trying to pass off intellectual property assets as their own.
However, you should take steps to protect your assets before a problem arises. When you have something you feel you need to patent, trademark, or copyright, you can apply for protection on your own.
For patents, you do not need a patent attorney, but the process can be complicated and confusing even for technically simple products. For example, suppose your prototype is built out of experimental materials but could be made with any other materials. In that case, you must say so, or the patent office may only allow you to patent prototypes made of the experimental equipment. Sadly, there are numerous other omissions, mistakes, or oversights that can potentially limit what you can patent.
If you insist on developing and writing your own patent, then it is good to contract with a patent lawyer to look over what you write before you submit. Having a patent lawyer check your work will be well worth the investment.
How to protect your intellectual property
It is easier than you might think to protect your intellectual property! Too many small business owners neglect this vital step, especially when starting a new business because it is not considered essential to starting up. The stakes are too high – be sure you are protected!
Although it may seem prohibitively expensive, daunting, or time-consuming, protecting your intellectual property is well worth investing the time, money, and effort. And, with the right attorney, the process can be made simple and even easy. Here are some methods to protect your intellectual property:
- Identify which aspects of your business or products would fit under one of the four main types: trademark, copyright, patent, or trade secret. Each category requires different procedures.
- Develop clearly worded Non-Disclosure and Non-Competition Agreements with employees, clients, freelancers, or anyone who might become privy to your operations or trade secrets.
- Register your copyrights as soon as possible with the federal copyright office or with your state’s copyright or trademark registry.
- Begin protecting your trademarks and copyrights as soon as they are published.
- Find an excellent intellectual property attorney in your area. Although some of these methods may be simple and straightforward, your best bet is to invest in the guidance and help of an experienced professional.
No matter the size of your business, you should protect your intellectual property every step of the way. At the Law Office of Paul Yee, we understand that the stakes are high and that your priority is growing your business. If you live in the Pasadena, South Pasadena, Altadena, or San Marino area and have intellectual property to protect, give us a call to see how we can help! You will always speak directly to Paul, never a staff member.