A Guide To Intellectual Property For New Businesses

Intellectual property helps protect the original creation from unauthorized use, duplication, and distribution. This means only the original creator has the exclusive right to do so. If other entities use your original creations and inventions without your permission, ask your lawyer what to do next to stop them and claim damages from them.

Published over a year ago
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Reviewed by Ellen Johnson

So, you’ve finally come up with a unique concept no business has ever imagined. Congratulations! You’ve done a marvelous job! However, remember that this is only the beginning of your story, so there’s no room for you to be complacent. 

Now that you have a unique idea, the next action is to protect it from other individuals, businesses, and organizations that might use it without your consent. This is where intellectual property comes in.

An intellectual property (IP) is an intangible (abstract) asset owned by a business entity, an organization, or an individual that protects their ideas from unauthorized use. It covers all the products of the mind, such as innovation, concepts, and creativity. 

IP aims to protect all the products of the human mind, like physical property. Similar to tangible assets, concepts and innovations can be stolen. This is why it’s vital to ensure they’re safe from people who want to use them illegally. 

This article discusses everything you need to know about intellectual property. So, read on to learn more.

What Are The Different Types Of Intellectual Property?

There are different types of IP depending on the nature of the idea. These are trademarks, patents, and copyrights. So, what makes one different from the other? Read below to learn more.

Trademark

A trademark is a phrase, logo, insignia, or word that distinguishes a particular product from competitors. The best examples include McDonald’s golden arches, Nike’s swoosh logo, and Coca-Cola’s script typography.

What are the intangible assets you can register for a trademark?

  • The design in a special format your company uses in your day-to-day operations
  • The product names
  • The name of the business
  • The sound or music your company uses to promote your products and services
  • The symbol or logo your company uses

If you need help registering for a trademark, you may visit Trademark Engine or other similar services for easier trademark availability search and application processing.

However, it’s crucial to understand that applying for a trademark may not give you immediate protection. This starts the moment your company uses that trademark to distinguish your brand in commerce. Here are the different types of protection you might want to know:

  • Common Law: Some businesses use a mark in commerce even though they never register it as their trademark. They might be qualified for common law protection as long as they can prove they’re the first to use that mark.
  • State-Level: This protection protects a mark from unauthorized use, but its powers are limited to the state where the company is located. This means other companies from other states may use your mark without being liable for legal damages. 
  • Federal-Level: This is an absolute protection you can apply for your trademark. It aims to protect a mark across the entire country and begins once you use it in commerce. For this protection, you may visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Now, you’re probably wondering whether a trademark has an expiration date. It has, and it depends on the type of protection it uses.

  • A trademark under common law protection may last indefinitely as long as you use it in the market. However, make sure to impose your rights if others try to steal them; otherwise, you’ll lose the protection.
  • State-level protection may vary from state to state. Check your local state office for more information.
  • Federal-level protection usually lasts for ten years but can be renewed for another ten years. Visit USPTO’s online web portal for more information.

If problems arise regarding unauthorized trademark use, seek professional legal help for the next steps you’ll have to take.

Patent

patent grants creators and innovators absolute ownership to protect their unique inventions from others who plan to use, sell, and distribute their creations without consent. Depending on the invention, a patent may last up to 20 years. 

In addition to absolute ownership, below are other rights you can receive when you file a patent.

  • You can claim damages from people who infringe on your patent as long as their creation is significantly similar to yours.
  • You can sell, produce, and distribute your creation as long as you want.
  • You can provide a license to another company that wants to use, sell, and distribute your original creation.

Below are some of the most popular patented inventions in history.

  • The Internal Combustion Engine: This is a significant device installed in most vehicles today and was patented by Samuel Brown in 1823.
  • The Light Bulb: The patent for the first light bulb was given to Sir Thomas Edison in the mid-17th century. 
  • The Television: This was patented by Philo Farnsworth in early 1930.

If you’re planning to patent an original creation, consider applying for a provisional patent with USPTO. This gives you additional time to prepare for the actual patent while keeping your invention protected for one year.

Copyright

Like patents, copyrights grant creators absolute ownership of their creations. These include various materials, such as songs, movies, books, advertising copies, software applications, and paintings.

Creators may also receive other exclusive rights provided by the copyright law, such as:

  • Exclusive display of original works (e.g., art exhibits and film shows)
  • Exclusive copying of original works (e.g., book publication)
  • Exclusive distribution of original works (e.g., album release and book distribution)

Although applying for copyright isn’t always necessary, registering for one may award you benefits, such as:

  • Publication of original works will be listed as copyrighted. This will prevent others from using your creations for their own gain.
  • You’ll have the right to file a lawsuit against people who might take advantage of your original works without your permission.

Furthermore, applying for copyright is easy. All you need to do is visit the United States Copyright Office (USCO). Then, you’ll be asked to complete an application form, pay fees, and submit a copy of your original work. If you don’t have much time, you can do this online.

Final Words

Intellectual property helps protect the original creation from unauthorized use, duplication, and distribution. This means only the original creator has the exclusive right to do so. If other entities use your original creations and inventions without your permission, ask your lawyer what to do next to stop them and claim damages from them.

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