Over the course of the last decade, a culture of startups has become more and more established. For instance, business incubators such as Techstars and Y Combinator provide small businesses mentoring and funding. Another non-profit corporation, Sildona, Inc., provides online co-working space and a variety of support services for solo entrepreneurs and creatives. One thing is clear: corporate support for the commercial development of intellectual property is in place and being utilized. However, as this entrepreneurial era matures, it is important principals take the necessary steps to protect that intellectual property they are working so hard to develop.
Patents help protect inventions, such as physical products, chemical processes, or even manufacturing processes. Protection lasts for 20 years. Patents are important because unless a third-party company obtains permission from a patent holder, that party is prohibited from commercially producing, selling, distributing, or importing said patented product. However, patenting is a complex process and needs assistance in budgeting, filing and prosecution decisions from experienced patent agents like Heer Law.
Nevertheless, patent infringement does, at times, take place. Additionally, patent infringement can sometimes be perceived to take place. Whether infringement actually occurs must be determined by a judge. Because the process of defending a patent takes place in the court system, it is necessary to have the guidance of an experienced patent attorney.
Unlike a patent, which protects a business product or process, a trademark protects business identity as expressed by a name, logo, or other textual or visual design. Trademark protection is important because, eventually, a product can become synonymous with a name. Consider Coca Cola. Drinking a coke means one thing. It means Coca Cola. Coca Cola is trademarked, so no other soft drink company can register a name similar to or the same as the name protected by Coca Cola.
Additionally, the design of the bottle–the distinct contour and original fluting of the bottle, for instance–is also protected. Any business wanting to brand its name or product should obtain protection in the form of a trademark. To successfully do so means successfully navigating the legal system, which requires an attorney trained in intellectual property procedures.
Copyrights protect a variety of creative works, such as written, visual, and musical works. The strange thing about copyright protection, however, is that once a creative work is complete, it is automatically copyright protected. That said, in order to sue someone for copyright infringement, the creative work must be registered with the Library of Congress. Unless the copyright holder actually files for copyright protection, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to successfully sue someone for infringement. Additionally, copyright law is complicated and subtle. A copyright attorney trained in intellectual property is the best resource for ensuring one’s copyright protection is actually enforceable.
4. Internal practices
– access control
Of course, IP protection begins at one’s place of business, and the first defense is making certain only necessary parties have access to the IP. For instance, the recipe behind Coca Cola should not be taped to a bulletin board in the break room. Similarly, it should not be shared on social media. Instead, it should be kept in a safe and backed up at a bank or on a secure server. After the inventor, the only person that needs access to the recipe is the soft-drink mixing supervisor who might program the bottling machines and the mix the ingredients. While so many means of protection rely on an IP attorney, limiting access is a method of protection that rests solely on the business owner.
– limited ownership
When it comes to protecting one’s IP, another best practice is the concept of limited ownership, which means that intellectual property should be owned by only one person, if possible, not by many. First, multiple owners increase the number of moving parts, so to speak, increasing the exposure of and possibility that the property can be leaked. Second, multiple owners complicate the process of enforcement and legal remedy.
– social manipulation
Sometimes, advice regarding the protection of IP runs contrary to standard practices or common advice. One such instance is the advice that IP owners should avoid patent protection.
For instance, some people argue that patent protection creates a recipe, of sorts, of a product that someone can then slightly change. In creating an altered product, the patent is circumvented. Although this argument might apply to a more generalized product, for specific types of intellectual properties, such as algorithms, changing the product actually changes the performance of the software. In terms of software, weaker algorithms are not a threat. A quality algorithm, written specifically to produce a certain programmed behavior, deserves patent protection.
Additionally, some people advise against filing for copyright protection. These people remind the creator that his or her work is protected at the time the product is complete. What they do not say is that enforcing copyright protection requires the copyright actually be filed with the Library of Congress. As noted above, unless a work is registered with the Library of Congress, the copyright cannot be legally enforced.
5. Trade secrets
Unlike other forms of IP that are protected upon filing, trade secrets are enforced so long as they meet the following criteria.
– are secrets of commercial value
– not generally known
– protected by steps to maintain the secret
6. Non-disclosure agreements
Non-disclosure agreements (NDA) are legal documents that become necessary when someone with protected knowledge needs to share that knowledge with someone else. Although, of course, the NDA cannot physically prevent someone from stealing or sharing information once it is divulged, it does offer legal remedy. Like filing for copyright protection, having a signed NDA ensures an IP owner can prove someone stole or shared information when they were not legally permitted to do so.
7. Contact an attorney
It is impossible to adequately protect intellectual property without the assistance of a legal professional. For instance, the lawyers at Boss Lawyers IP Law in Brisbane understand that protection must be both proactive and reactive. It is proactive in that all the necessary legal steps must be taken to ensure protection exists. Similarly, the process is reactive in that only a lawyer can mitigate loss of intellectual as it is being stolen or pursue damages after it has been stolen.