Your intellectual property is a valuable asset and failing to protect it puts your IP at risk.
Intellectual property is any original work or invention you create and own the rights to. It starts as an idea that is developed into an innovative, new product, service or technology — such as a film, software, mobile app, source code, book, cartoon, or manufacturing process.
Your idea becomes an intellectual property when you protect the legal rights to it. The legal system for registering intellectual property rights enables IP owners to turn their IP into money-making products, services and technologies.
Why You Must Protect Your IP
IP increases your value in the marketplace. IP lets you command a premium for your services, or a higher price for your products. You can make money with it directly, or let others use it and make money for you. It’s a valuable asset that can be sold to others or passed on to your heirs.
Intellectual property allows you to own things you create in a similar way to owning physical property. Examples of extremely valuable IP rights include J. K. Rowling’s copyright in the Harry Potter books and the formula for the Coca-Cola syrup.
If you don’t protect it , you fact a number of risks:
- Lost income because your competitors, partners, and customers are using your IP without paying any royalties.
- Unable to enforce your IP rights and collect damages from an infringer.
- An ex-employee takes your trade secrets and gives them to their new employer who is your competitor
- You get a letter threatening litigation from a company claiming you are infringing on their IP
One of my clients was a women whose husband was a professional photographer who had died and left her a very valuable collection of original Marilyn Monroe photographs. Some of the photos wound up in the hands of art gallery who was duplicating and selling them without a license. She filed a copyright infringement suit, but when she appeared in court, the judge dismissed the case because she failed to register the copyrights on the photos.
How to Protect IP Rights
There are two ways to protect IP rights:
- By registering with a government agency, such as the USPTO;
- By maintaining the secrecy or confidentiality of information.
Registered IP includes patents, copyrights and trademarks. When you register your IP, you are disclosing it as public information. That means anyone can look up the IP and find out the details about the IP, including who owns it. Examples of registered patents include technologies used in cel phones and computers. Well known brands are registered trademarks. And movie and TV shows are most often registered copyrights.
Unregistered IP is known as trade secrets. It includes know-how, business processes, formulas, recipes and other confidential information…basically anything you’ve created that helps you make a profit and don’t want anyone to know how you do it. This type of IP requires keeping it confidential to keep up its rights, and is not publicly disclosed. It’s only shared under a non disclosure and licensing agreement. Trade secrets such as the formula for big soda brands and the algorithm’s for the big search engine brands are examples of unregistered IP.
Both registered and non registered rights are valuable and can be licensed. It’s not uncommon for both types of IP rights to exist in one product, such as the Coca Cola trademark brand and the trade secret formula.
Protecting IP Internationally
While intellectual property laws vary from country to country, the registration process for patents, trademarks, and copyrights are similar.
When you register your rights in the US, you can extend that legal protection into other countries outside the US. There are agreements between the US and other countries that give a certain period (which differs among the various IP registrations) to decide whether your want to secure rights internationally.
These agreements make it easier to concurrently register your IP in many countries with one set of documents. Before registering in any county, it’s always best to seek advice of a qualified legal expert who is familiar with the foreign intellectual property laws. They can guide and help you avoid the pitfalls of foreign IP registration.
More Than One Way to Protect Your IP
You can protect your IP using one or a combination of patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. For example, your software is protected as a copyright, the product name is a trademarked brand, and your source code is a trade secret. Each one of these registrations vary in the type of protection they offer and in the length of time the protection is available.
Regardless of what type of IP you own, it’s an asset that over time can become very valuable. Success with your IP is dependent upon your ability to manage and protect it. It may be the name on your front door, your client list, a graphic design, software, invention or confidential information. Once you protect it, you have to safeguard it, use it (either directly or through licensing), and if necessary, prevent others from using it illegally.
Rand Brenner is an IP professional whose passion is helping inventors, startups, and businesses of all sizes use licensing to turn their IP into income-producing products, services, and technologies. His decades of experience run the gamut from medical devices to food technology to consumer products. He’s licensed some of the biggest Hollywood entertainment blockbusters including the Batman Movies (1 and 2), and the number one kid’s action TV show, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Rand speaks about licensing and is a featured speaker at investment conferences, trade shows, colleges and startup events. He’s a published writer with articles appearing in several prestigious trade magazine including The Licensing Journal, Intellectual Property Magazine, and License India. Rand also mentors at the Cal State Fullerton School of Business and Economics and is a judge for their startup business plan competitions.