Understanding the legal ins and outs of intellectual property (IP) protection is important to your business in two ways. First, you want to protect your IP, and second, you don’t want to inadvertently violate someone else’s IP rights and open yourself to a suit.

In language we can all understand, this in-depth article delivers the information you need to protect yourself and your IP.

The most common intellectual property examples include copyrights, trademarks, patents, and licenses. But what’s the difference? Which is best for you?

The U.S. loses $225 billion to $600 billion every year in intellectual property (IP) theft, including trade secrets, counterfeit goods, and pirated software. Ninety percent of exporters in the U.S. are patent-holding businesses. Intellectual property accounts for 70 percent of publicly listed corporations.

Intellectual capital, aka intellectual property (IP), are items you need to protect through either a trademark, copyright, patent, or license. Intellectual property examples include photographs, books, artwork, and inventions.

IP is original ideas and thoughts you create on your own. If they have monetary value, you need to protect them.

You may be wondering what the differences are between methods of protection, and which is the best for protecting your company assets under the law. We will explain what each of these is, give examples of when an item may need more than one type of coverage, and discuss what happens when violations occur.

Copyright Registration

A copyright protects the artist of creative works. Creative works include items such as songs, novels, paintings, films, website designs, architectural drawings, product manuals, and more. As the author of a copyrighted piece, you have the exclusive right to:

  • Display, film, perform, record, publish or reproduce the creative content, and
  • Create derivative works from the original piece.

Copyright protection is an automatic right from the time the work is in tangible form.

Copyright protection is an automatic right from the time the work is in tangible form. There is no protection if it is only in your mind, and not in physical existence.

The life of a copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years. If a company owns the copyright, the term is 95 years following the date the work became public for the first time.

Registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office is an optional step that is highly recommended. By registering your copyright, you have the benefit of legal protection. This includes enforcement in court against those who overstep the boundaries.

Copyrighted items bear the © symbol.

Trademark, Registered Trademark, and Service Mark

A trademark is something that identifies the source of a service or product. The trademark distinguishes it from others and bears the ™ (trademark) or ℠ (service mark). Registered trademarks display the ® symbol.

Trademarks represent a variety of things, including the service or product you are protecting. Here are some examples:

  • Motorola, MOTO, and the stylized M logo are registered trademarks of Motorola Trademark Holdings LLC;
  • Microsoft, Windows, Windows NT, Windows Server, and Windows Vista are all either trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation; and
  • Burger King has several trademarks, including the burger name “Whopper,” and slogans like “Home of the Whopper” and “Have it Your Way.”

Owners of trademarks have the right to prevent others from infringing on their marketing territory by using “confusingly similar” names. The right of a trademark may be automatic. This happens when an item or service is used in the marketplace and becomes a trademark under common law, and is unregistered.

Registering the item or service with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) provides the company with a registered trademark. When you register your trademark, you have exclusive use throughout the country for all goods and services in the registration. You will need to periodically renew the registration to maintain its protection.

Important:

If you have a common law trademark, you only establish rights within the geographic area where it is being used.

If you have a common law trademark, you only establish rights within the geographic area where it is being used.

Patent

A patent protects inventors, giving them a 20-year exclusive property right through the PTO. By registering a patent, you can prevent others from manufacturing, using, or selling your invention.

One important step is to enforce any unauthorized action by seeking appropriate legal recourse.

If you don’t, a court can declare your patent unenforceable and abandoned.

A utility patent provides protection for any new and useful process, article of manufacture, machine, the composition of matter, or any useful and new improvement. When applying for a utility patent you need to prove to the PTO throughout application statements that your invention meets their criteria as useful, novel, and non-obvious.

Design patents are for ornamental designs that are new and original. They must be embodied in or applied to an article during the manufacturing process. The ornamental design does not impact the function of the item.

Plant patents protect discovered or invented plants that asexually reproduce and are new and distinct.

When seeking a patent of any type the first step is to conduct of patent public search to make sure a patent request is not already on file or granted that is similar to your product.

License

A license is a contract granting IP rights from the original owner (the Licensor) to a third party (Licensee). The rights can be exclusive, meaning only one person or company holds rights. They can also be non-exclusive, meaning several different licensees have usage permission.

The term of the license is generally for a set period of time.

If the licensee continues using the product beyond the terms of the license, they are in violation of IP law. To continue using the product, the licensee must renew the license.

For example, a photographer has a photograph of a waterfront area that a business wants to use in advertising their vacation rental property during a 12-month period. The license is written, and the licensor receives the agreed-upon payment. At the end of the 12 months, if the licensee wishes to continue using the same photo, the license needs to be extended.

The licensee pays the licensor royalty fees in exchange for the right to use the IP rights. The royalty fee is usually based on the percentage of revenue use of the item will generate.

License agreements are legally binding contracts, so you want to carefully follow a template or contact an attorney to draw the license up for you.

Multiple Use Intellectual Property Examples

As an entrepreneur, you likely have a lot of questions about running your business and protecting your intellectual property.

One question might be whether the same product or service needs more than one type of protection.

The short answer is maybe.

An image may need multiple rights of protection. Copyright is for the image itself. If the photo identifies a particular service or product, it may need a trademark. If the same image is being used in advertising, it may need a license authorizing its use.

Smartphones are a prime example of multiple IP needs. The phone may use technology for data encryption and features, such as a camera, that has a patent. The phone may be manufactured by a company that is a registered trademark, and the design of the home screen may have a registered copyright.

Make sure you protect your intellectual property in all manners possible.

When striving to grow your business and protect your intellectual property, you may want to seek the guidance of a business coach. They can guide you on the proper handling of business matters and provide valuable information.

Failure to Follow IP Law

Intellectual property law establishes the rules for securing and enforcing legal protections for designs, artistic work, and inventions. By protecting intellectual property, the government encourages people to develop things that benefit society and profit from their efforts.

The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, provides authors and inventors exclusive rights to the items they create.

The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, provides authors and inventors exclusive rights to the items they create. To protect against infringement, anyone who has rights to IP needs to publish notice of their rights. You accomplish this by using the appropriate patent number, the label “patent pending,” or appropriate symbols (® ™ ℠ ©).

If an infringement on your IP rights happens, you need to consult with an attorney specializing in this area of law. They will file the lawsuit in federal court.

If you win your case, the court may order an injunction against the offender, award monetary damages, or the parties may agree to a license agreement for the item’s use.

As a business, you need to make sure you do not infringe on the intellectual property of others. If you violate copyright, patent, trademark, or use the property without the proper license, you may suffer thousands of dollars in penalties and/or jail time.

Avoid Committing Infringement

To avoid infringement, you must exercise caution when using graphics, slogans, and product components.

This can easily happen by accident if you are not careful.

For example, you hire an outside source to create something for your business. Just because you contract the work to be done, you are not the creator. You do not have automatic usage rights to the item.

The contract for the work needs to specify the contractor is giving you the rights to the work they create.

Avoid violations by:

  • Creating your own original images,
  • Not using images and photos of others without permission,
  • Not using images another merchant uses to sell their products,
  • Contacting the photographer or content creator to get permission when you want to use something,
  • Not taking screenshots of branded and trademarked products from the internet, catalogs, or merchant listings for your own product listing,
  • Not selling counterfeit, fake, or replica items,
  • Not using a person’s name, likeness, or other recognizable feature in your listing, and
  • Not using images or quotes from celebrities without their permission.

Another unintentional violation may be through an employee. If a new employee brings trade secrets from their previous employer and uses them to benefit your business, the company may be in violation. It is important to make sure new employees understand that intellectual property from a previous employer may not be used.

Continue to Learn and Grow

Learning about intellectual property examples is just one of the many things you need to understand as a business owner. The best way to gain entrepreneurial success and generate more profit is to learn and grow through the guidance of a business coach.

Our organization has more than 40 years of experience in business coaching and training. We will help you map out your goals and increase your business revenue.

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