Safeguarding inventions and ideas is key to small business’s success. Learn about intellectual property protection mechanisms like Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks and Trade Secrets.
Unique works reflecting someone’s creativity are everywhere we look – from miracle drugs and computer games to cars. Learn about intellectual property law and enforcement including Patents, Designs and Trademarks.
Copyright is one of several intellectual property rights that protect original works by authors, such as literary works, dramatic plays, movies and computer software. Copyright also extends to architecture projects as well as artistic creations like paintings, photographs and sculptures created during creation and remains valid for 50 years after author’s life has ended. Protection begins immediately as soon as work is created – meaning this legal protection starts automatically for literary authors as soon as their works have been produced!
Copyright law seeks to foster creativity and the development of useful inventions by giving creators exclusive rights over their works, enabling them to control how it is used and even make some profit from it.
Copyright protection requires that a work meet certain minimal standards of originality. This doesn’t have to be original in terms of its content; rather, it could include showing some effort. A list of alphabetical entries such as Nobel Prize winners doesn’t qualify because it doesn’t contain any creative expression – however annotated and annotated versions may qualify for protection.
Though copyright protection grants creators exclusive control of their works, it does not ensure absolute protection. There are some exceptions to copyright rules such as fair use (17 U.S.C SS107). It may be acceptable to quote short excerpts from books or plays to review them or critique them; similarly, libraries may provide copiers and scanners for patron use without incurring liability from unapproved copies made by them.
Another exception exists if the work produced by an employee as part of their employment or was commissioned by someone else; typically the party claiming ownership will be either the employer or person who commissioned it. Copyright law has become fairly standard worldwide due to a variety of international treaties like Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works; WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty and Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
Patents are legal rights granted to inventors who create new, useful inventions that grant them exclusive use or production. As a form of government-sanctioned monopoly that encourages further innovation, patents generally last 20 years before renewal becomes possible.
Patent requirements differ between countries and there may be debate about their necessity or effectiveness; however, the TRIPS Agreement negotiated by the World Trade Organization requires nations to abide by certain standards and laws concerning intellectual property protection.
Patenting requires describing an invention in detail and showing it to be novel, non-obvious and capable of industrial application. Patents cover an expansive range of inventions – from machines and computer software, pharmaceuticals and genetically engineered bacteria through genetic engineering; however only certain products and ideas qualify for protection this way – mental processes, newly discovered laws of nature or methods of doing business do not fall under this protection umbrella.
Patents come in various forms, with utility patents representing the broadest innovations. To receive one of these, the item in question must not have been considered obvious by someone with ordinary skill in that technical field; furthermore, it must also have been created from scratch and never have been made public before in any form or fashion.
If a patent owner believes someone is violating his or her terms of patent protection, an infringement lawsuit may be filed in order to receive costs, attorney fees and damages equivalent to reasonable royalties.
Owners of patents include both inventors themselves or their employers (if created at work). Once obtained by a company, its advertising and other materials should include information regarding protection provided. Alternatively, applying for one can be accomplished by filling out forms and paying associated fees; companies in the meantime can use phrases like “patent pending” in their materials to indicate they are seeking protection through this route.
Trademarks protect words, symbols and designs (such as logos) used to distinguish products sold by one manufacturer from those offered by others in the marketplace. Trademarks often create positive associations for products or companies while making consumers aware of where goods or services originated from – from shopping in stores to watching commercials on TV – trademarks can be found everywhere from stores to commercials on television – although trademarks only receive legal protection if their usage distinguishes them from others and meets certain legal criteria.
Trademark law defines four distinctiveness categories for trademarks based on their relationship to an underlying product or service: fanciful, suggestive, descriptive and generic. Each has different legal requirements and levels of protection; those without any relation or description – usually completely made-up (fanciful) or common terms without any connection with what lies underneath (arbitrary) enjoy the greatest protection. “Google” would fit this description while Apple is an example of both categories.
Not only can trademarks protect words, logos, and symbols but also other aspects of product design such as color or shape. This form of protection – known as trade dress – applies only if it identifies goods or services without conferring any functional advantage to them; for instance the unique shape of Coca-Cola bottles are trademarked while Owens-Corning fiberglass insulation products’ pink hue is not.
Copyright protection is inherent to creating creative works; trademarks require more intensive registration with the government in order to enjoy full legal protections. Once registered, their owner can restrict others from using it commercially without permission and take legal action if any attempt at misuse occurs. Trademarks without federal registration should be marked with “TM/SM”, while once they have been officially registered they should feature “R”.
As an entrepreneur, it is critical that you gain an understanding of intellectual property law and how it applies to your business. Consulting an experienced IP attorney will enable you to identify which aspects of your business merit protection, how best to register them with authorities and monitor for any possible infringement of these elements over the long haul – safeguarding both its reputation and profitability for years.
Trade secrets provide protection for confidential information that cannot be disclosed publicly, such as formulae, patterns, compilations, programs, devices, methods techniques and processes that give a company a competitive advantage. They do not enjoy as comprehensive a protection as patents or copyright but can still be protected through state law as well as contract such as nondisclosure agreements and work-for-hire contracts that include reasonable geographical scope and time restraint clauses (depending on state employment law regulations).
Trade secret law continues to evolve across the United States. Up until recently, most states relied on a 1939 book called Restatement of Torts which offered a summary of various state laws as their primary guide; however, more recently many states have implemented their own version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act as their source of guidance.
The Trade Secret Act is intended to establish greater consistency and uniformity in trade secret laws across states without preempting existing state laws or mandating new requirements. Instead, the Act offers similar preventive measures, such as confidentiality agreements that exist under state law; additionally it creates a civil cause of action for misappropriation of trade secrets as well as procedures for ex parte seizure of property.
While UTSA provides uniformity, businesses should still implement a thorough confidentiality policy that employees understand and agree to. This should include outlining what information should be considered confidential as well as outlining any monetary and injunctive relief a company could seek should an employee breach the agreement. It is best practice for all employees, independent contractors and temporary personnel to sign confidentiality agreements as a condition of their work.
Security systems should also be implemented to safeguard confidential information, particularly trade secrets, that the business relies on for its business operations from being disclosed outside or to third parties who do not need access. In the event of a security breach, it’s critical that an immediate plan be put in place in order to respond quickly and efficiently.