3 Ways to Protect Your Intellectual Property

Ideas fuel businesses, and without complete ownership of those ideas, companies risk obscurity. Unfortunately, far too many aspiring business leaders assume they can take shortcuts and steal others' hard-won intellectual property — and far too many succeed in this problematic endeavor.

Not sure how to protect your intellectual property or why it's imperative that you do so? Consider utilizing one of the following strategies to protect your ideas and their creative execution:

3 Ways to Protect Your Intellectual Property

 1. Patent

Patents are primarily granted to ideas or inventions deemed nonobvious, original and useful. Depending on the concept, the patent owner may gain protection for up to two decades. Upon expiration, the patented work enters the public domain. At this point, however, it has gained protection from the threats of stolen intellectual property, which typically takes place early on in a concept's existence.

When seeking a patent, the creator must disclose all included work in detail. Patents are therefore not ideal for those who wish to maintain trade secrets. However, because patents are so difficult to obtain, it's almost impossible for defendants in court to suggest that a patent is invalid; its mere existence confirms its validity.

 2. Copyright

Often confused with patents, a copyright protects the expression of ideas, rather than ideas themselves. A copyright covers the following:

  • Literature
  • Music, including lyrics
  • Dramatic works, including music used as accompaniment
  • Motion pictures
  • Sound recordings
  • Choreographed works, such as dances
  • Websites
  • Computer programs

Only the copyright holder has the ability to copy, change, or distribute the protected work, unless others receive explicit permission. Damages cannot be recovered unless the copyright was in place prior to infringement.

Copyright protection lasts longer than a patent or a trademark; while a trademark is technically indefinite, it must be renewed every ten years. Conversely, the copyright holder enjoys full protection for the rest of his or her life, plus anywhere between 70 and 120 additional years, depending on the nature of the copyright.

 3. Trademark

Each concept or invention needs a name, and that name often requires protection. Trademark provides that protection, while also granting greater brand awareness. Trademarks can also be used to protect symbols; the experts at Entrepreneur point to the NBC peacock as an excellent example. Whether used for symbols or names, trademarks should be distinct, as this makes them easier to enforce — hence the odd spellings that accompany many product names.

While patents have clear expiration dates, trademarks technically last as long as companies use them regularly. Initial registration lasts ten years, followed by renewal every decade. Lack of use could lead to termination of trademark registration. This is rarely an issue, however, as most businesses safeguard and utilize their trademarks heavily, often for brand identity and awareness purposes.

Intellectual property is the lifeblood of your small business. Don't let others steal all your hard work. Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are all viable options for protecting your intellectual property; do your homework and select the approach that best fits your property and the goals that accompany it.

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