Intellectual Property for Business Owners – 10 Things You Should Know

Your business has intellectual property made up of your collective ideas, innovation, and intelligence. Your intellectual property can include trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights, and patents.

There is no arguing the fact that intellectual property has value. A trade secret like the recipe for Coca-Cola can give a company a competitive advantage that lasts for a very long time. For example, a product with the Louis Vuitton logo on it can sell for a much higher price than a product of equal quality that does not have that LV logo on it.

Unfortunately, every business will face issues related to intellectual property at some point during their lifecycles. The question is how those issues will affect your business.

Education is the first step to protecting your business’ intellectual property and deriving value from it in the form of competitive advantages and profits. As a first step to educating yourself, review the 10 things every business owner, every business leader, and every business employee should know about intellectual property discussed below. Ultimately, every employee plays a part in building, protecting, and exploiting the value of your intellectual property, so make sure they understand these 10 things, too.

1. Intellectual property rights are exclusive.

Intellectual property rights give you the right to exclude others from profiting from your creations. If you won’t (or don’t) enforce your right to exclude, there is no use in securing legal protection for your inventions, creative works, and brands.

2. Intellectual property rights are territorial.

U.S. law only protects intellectual property in the United States. You have to protect your rights in each country where you’re doing business.

3. Copyrights must be enforced.

You don’t need to register your copyright to own it, but you do need to register your copyright in order to enforce it.

4. Innocent infringement is as actionable as intentional infringement.

You can infringe on someone else’s patents, trademarks, and copyrights even if you didn’t realize you were doing it. Innocent infringement is as actionable as intentional infringement. The onus is on you to understand the law just like other laws. If you get pulled over for a traffic violation, saying you didn’t know the law won’t get you out of a ticket. It works the same way with intellectual property.

5. Owner vs. author must be clearly established.

Make sure appropriate contracts are in place to clearly identify who owns what work and creations. Follow the link to learn more about how owner vs. author affects intellectual property and your business.

6. Corporate names are not the same as trademarks.

Clearing your company or corporate name is not the same as or a substitute for clearing a trademark. Follow the link to learn more about trade names vs. trademarks and how it affects your business.

7. Timing is critical.

Your legal rights are greatly affected by the timing of filing your trademark, copyright, and patent applications. This is where an intellectual property attorney can save you time, money, frustrations, and even heartache. For example, follow the link to learn how timing affects patents and your ability to protect your inventions.

8. Copyright and trademark symbols must be used correctly.

The copyright symbol can be used without a registration as can the TM and SM trademark symbols, but the encircled R trademark symbol cannot be used unless a trademark is federally registered. Follow the links to learn more about copyright symbols and trademark symbols.

9. It’s never too early to protect your business’ trade secrets.

Your business could face expensive and possibly business-ending disasters if you don’t protect your trade secrets as soon as possible. Follow the link to learn about the business disasters you could face if you don’t protect your trade secrets.

10. Intellectual property has a lifespan.

Intellectual property doesn’t last forever. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author or creator plus 70 years. Patents are valid for 20 years from the date of filing. Only trademarks can be protected forever but only if they are in commercial use.