Intellectual Property 101
What intellectual property is and how to protect yours
By Nellie Akalp
Your business’s intellectual property includes everything from your company’s name and logo to your trade secrets—and are just as valuable as your physical assets. Take the proper legal steps now to protect your intellectual property before another business beats you to it. Here’s what you need to know about trademarks, copyrights, and patents.
A trademark is a word, phrase, name, symbol (or a combination) that identifies a product or service source and distinguishes it from other products or services. When you legally register your company name, product names, logos, and taglines with the USPTO (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office), you have the exclusive right to use those trademarks and can sue for infringement. If you don’t register your trademark with the USPTO, you have no claim if others copy you.
Copyrights protect “original works of authorship” and give your business the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise use a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc. For digital startups, this typically means website copy, marketing materials, and computer code. Legally, a copyright exists when something is written, photographed, drawn, etc.; however, as with a trademark, unless you register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, it will be difficult to protect it in court.
A registered patent is the exclusive right granted by the government to manufacture, use, or sell an invention for a certain number of years. Patents cover tangible items such as software processes, product design, and other innovations. Before applying for a patent, make sure your product or idea is original, useful, and not apparent to others with basic skills in your field. As patents have value in and of themselves, they can be sold as assets and are factored into funding or acquisition deals. Acquiring a patent can take up to six years and hundreds of hours of work. Most companies turn to an attorney, patent agent, or licensing firm to help with the process.
Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur, business expert, professional speaker, author, and mother of four. She is the founder and CEO of CorpNet.com, a resource and service provider for business incorporation, LLC filings, and corporate compliance services in all 50 states. CorpNet can help your business with its intellectual property registration.