Your business thrives on your ideas and the products and services they give life to. But before you turn that million-dollar idea into a million-unit seller, you need to take steps to secure your intellectual property and protect it against plagiarism.
Three ways to secure your IP
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, intellectual property protection breaks down into three basic categories: copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Depending on your business type, you can effectively use all three to cover your bases and protect your IP.
Copyright is perhaps best known as a way of protecting works of art, including literature, music, and film. Jean Wilson Murray, an expert in small-business law, writes for The Balance Small Business that copyright laws can also apply to aspects of your online presence including website and social media content.
Trademarks apply to things like words, symbols, and logos. Per the USPTO, you can use trademarks to protect essentials like your business name, catchphrases, slogans, and even mascots. An example of this would be McDonald’s trademarking the business’ name, slogans like “I’m lovin’ it,” and mascots like Ronald McDonald.
A patent applies to a new or novel invention, which means it must be something that does not exist in some other form. The USPTO offers three types of protected patents: Utility patents for new processes or methods of manufacturing, design patents for products, and plant patents for newly bred or discovered varieties of plant life.
To qualify for a patent, the subject must be useful, new, novel, and non-obvious. This is all to say it can’t be something someone else has created, must have a clear intention for use, and has to demonstrate some degree of ingenuity.
Successfully filing for a copyright, trademark, or patent can be an involved process, and it may prove challenging to see through with all your responsibilities as a business owner. Working with an attorney or legal expert familiar with intellectual property laws can help expedite the process and ensure that every step is completed to the letter. The Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration suggests contacting your local bar administration, who will recommend experienced IP lawyers.
While applying for a copyright, trademark, or patent can go a long way toward protecting your IP, it also makes your IP a matter of public record. You can opt to keep your idea confidential to prevent giving competitors a chance to see your idea before it’s fully developed, which qualifies it as a trade secret.
Murray notes everything from programs and apps to products and manufacturing techniques can qualify as a trade secret. If the idea is stolen or misappropriated, you can take private civil action under the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, an amendment of the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.
Where trade secrets tend to get murky is the lack of formal registration. Unlike copyrights, trademarks, and patents, there’s no outward demonstration of ownership and no public record of your claims. However, the staff of Entrepreneur notes that you can declare a trade secret to your patent lawyer in a signed, notarized disclosure letter.
Protecting your intellectual property is as vital to the success of your business as protecting physical space or tangible products. Seek out an experienced copyright lawyer and learn more about what you can do to safeguard your ideas and give your business a competitive edge.