Intellectual property is an original work or invention you create and own the rights to. It starts as an idea and 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. There are two ways to protect your IP rights – registered and unregistered.
Registered IP includes patents, trademarks, and copyrights. When you secure your IP rights by registering the IP, you are disclosing the IP as public information. That means anyone can look up the IP and find out the details about the IP, including who owns it. Unregistered IP is know-how, business process, formulas, recipes, and other proprietary information and trade secrets. This type of IP is protected by keeping it confidential so it doesn’t become public information.
Securing patent rights today can be done in many ways – directly as the inventor, through patent agents and patent attorneys. Your patents are legal rights that only prohibit others from using the parts of your technology covered by the patent claims. There are several variations and types of patents. The most common are utility and design patents. Your patent can also include an unregistered part, such as know-how about the manufacturing process, a certain way to design it, or some other method that makes it faster, cheaper, or better. For example, a build-to-order production model that slashes the cost of delivering the patented product to customers.
Your company’s visibility in the form of logo designs, brand names, and trade dress combined with its reputation and goodwill are all part of your trademark. Trademarks, unlike patents and copyrights, can last forever, are low maintenance, and relatively low-cost. You can register trademarks at the state and federal level. State registering only gives you limited protection to a particular geographic area. To truly protect your product and brand, registering your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is by far the smartest option.
Copyrights include everything from movies to TV shows, books, paintings, sculptures, artwork, photography, music, and more. It also includes a number of other “non-artistic” forms such as computer programs, product label designs, and architectural works. You create the copyright from the moment you create your work. Unlike patents and trademarks, it is not necessary to register your copyrighted work to be protected by copyright. But to enforce your rights from a legal standpoint, you must register your work through the copyright office.
Trade secret law is the oldest form of IP protection. At the most basic level, a trade secret is simply information and knowledge. More specifically, it is often in the form of inventions, know-how, and show-how information that gives you a competitive advantage. Anything that takes time, money, or effort to develop and that you don’t want your competitors to know about. Unlike patents, copyrights and trademarks, trade secrecy is basically a do-it-yourself form of protection. You don’t register it, you simply keep the information confidential.
While intellectual property laws vary from country to country, the registration process for patents, trademarks, copyrights is similar. Several agreements between the US and other countries enable the concurrent registration of patents and trademarks in multiple countries with one set of documents. The same holds true for copyrights. The US has registration relationships with many countries around the world that provides for automatic recognition of copyright works of authors.
Your IP can be protected in two ways – registered and unregistered. Sometimes your IP can be protected both ways. For example, it may be a patent (registered) combined with manufacturing know-how (unregistered). That’s two ways to protect the same IP. The key is making sure you identify all the different parts of your IP and protect those rights the right way.
Securing your IP rights is a critical first step in turning your IP into revenue-generating licensing deals. Click here to find out about the five most important licensing tools you need to successfully manage and make money with your IP.