As a business owner, it’s important for you to be aware of the different types of intellectual property that your business may create or that you may come across in your endeavors. This understanding can help you protect your assets and avoid infringing on the rights of others.
There are four main types of intellectual property that business owners should know about. When any of these are infringed upon, it’s possible to take legal action to protect the intellectual property and your company. Conversely, your business could be held accountable for infringement by others if you aren’t thoughtful about your company’s approach.
A patent grants you the exclusive right to produce, sell, or use a specific invention for a limited period, typically 20 years from the filing date of your application. In the United States, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants patents. Inventions can safeguard machines, software, technologies and a host of other physical products in addition to certain designs and plant species.
A trademark is a specific marketing resource, including words, phrases or symbols, that identifies and distinguishes your company, goods or services from those of your competitors. Registering a trademark grants you the exclusive right to use the mark in connection with your goods or services. Trademarks can be renewed continually as long as they are being used in commerce and are being properly maintained.
A copyright protects original works of authorship, such as literature, music, movies, photographs and software. Copyright grants you the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display and create derivative works based on your creation. In most cases, copyright protection lasts for your lifetime plus 70 years after your death.
A trade secret is confidential information that gives your company a competitive advantage in your industry or marketplace, such as recipes, formulas, manufacturing processes or customer lists. Trade secret rights may be enforced – generally, via contract law – as long as they remain secret and you take reasonable steps to maintain their confidentiality.
By taking appropriate steps to secure your rights, you can safeguard your company’s creations and innovations and better ensure that you reap the benefits of your hard work and ingenuity. Handling your intellectual property properly can help to secure your company’s future and may continue to ensure it remains profitable.