All businesses have some form of intellectual property (“IP”), even if the only IP is the name of the business. IP is what helps differentiate your business and brand, setting it apart from other businesses.
IP can range from the name of your business and company logo to operating manuals, proprietary software, and technology used in direct association with your company and brand. As we’ve discussed previously in our blog titled “The Top 10 Mistakes Made When Starting and Operating a Business in Florida,” the name of your business is one of the most critical decisions you will have to make. You don’t want to pick a name that violates a third party’s IP rights, and you want to make sure your name sets you apart from other businesses and can also be protected as a federally registered trademark. Furthermore, it is important to track and manage your company’s IP so you can not only protect your company, and prevent other businesses from infringing on your trademark rights, but good record-keeping will assist you in the area of business succession, or in the event you wish to sell your business. Properly maintained IP can set your business apart from competitors and add value to your business.
Why Intellectual Property is Important
Intellectual Property infringement is more common than many entrepreneurs realize, which is why it’s essential to pay serious attention when it comes to protecting your company’s assets. As an entrepreneur, protecting your IP may not be a top priority, but it’s important to recognize its worth and how it fits into your business goals, especially in the digital age. Even more important is to recognize how costly it can be if you fail to pay attention to the IP rights of others and protect your own IP.
Defining Your Intellectual Property
The first step in managing your company’s IP is to determine what IP exists. Three of the major types of IP are trademarks, copyrights, and patents.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office defines a trademark as “… a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”
Although it can be a challenge to find a trademark that does not infringe upon the rights of another company, the advantages of the protections provided by a federal trademark registration are so significant that every business should persevere until it finds a non-infringing trademark, and then register it. A company’s brand and/or logo is usually the core identifying factor associated with the company’s products or services. It often ends up attaining an economic value in and of itself, aside from the actual service or goods correlated with it. Further trademark registration benefits include:
The U.S. Copyright Office defines a copyright as “A form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for “original works of authorship”, including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. “Copyright” literally means the right to copy but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, title, principle, or discovery. Similarly, names, titles, short phrases, slogans, familiar symbols, mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, coloring, and listings of contents or ingredients are not subject to copyright.”
Copyrights consist of media such as books, music, artwork, software, websites, and online content. Copyright protection is also a real concern for all businesses who operate using digital assets or provide downloadable materials on company websites. Copyrightable materials can also include, but are not limited to, manuals, presentation materials, and banners used in the course of business. The uniqueness of these tools is typically what keep companies ahead of the curve in their industry and stand out among competitors. The benefits of the copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright office include the eligibility of statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation for the owner of the registered work. Furthermore, if a copyright registration occurs within five years of publication, the U.S. Copyright Office considers it prima facie evidence in a court of law.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office defines a patent as “A patent is a limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention.”
A patent is a form of intellectual property that gives its owner the legal right to stop others from making, using, selling, and importing a specific invention for a limited period of years. Typically, 20 years from the date the patent application was filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce that grants patents for the protection of inventions and to register trademarks.
In exchange for this right, the owner of the patent agrees to publish their patent enabling public disclosure of the invention.
There are three types of patents:
And although our team at Hunter Business Law doesn’t practice in the field of patent law, we work with reputable patent attorneys to ensure the needs of our clients are met.
Managing Your Intellectual Property
Managing and maintaining your company’s IP assets is imperative. The IP inventory should include the type of IP (trademark, copyright, or patent), and more specifically for trademarks, the inventory should include the status of the IP, including: pending registration or registered, the serial numbers, the registration numbers, the USPTO International classes for which the IP is registered under, the descriptions correlating with those classes, the first dates the IP was used, the filing dates of the application, the registration dates, and the pending renewal dates (also known as maintenance dates). It’s common for growing companies to utilize a third-party IP management company to help track and monitor all proprietary information and to explain the process and potential issues. For more information on third-party monitoring systems, or to see how Hunter Business Law can be of assistance to you just contact us HERE.
Know Your Rights and Stay Protected
It is never an acceptable practice to leave your company’s IP unprotected and unmonitored. Infringements can go undetected for an extended period in many instances, which can lead to the damage of your company’s brand, and lesson the federal rights and protections provided by the IP registration. Having an attorney overseeing potential problems that impact the company’s bottom line is always an effective and efficient business policy for growing companies.
Get in touch with Hunter Business law and let us evaluate your need for IP protection.
This blog was written by Hunter Business Law’s Advanced Certified Paralegal, Katelyn J. Dougherty.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is for educational purposes only and does not offer nor substitute legal advice. Additionally, this blog does not establish an attorney-client relationship and is not for advertising or solicitation purposes. Any of the content contained herein shall not be used to make any decision without first consulting an attorney. The hiring of an attorney is an important decision not to be based on advertisements, or blogs. Hunter Business Law expressly disclaims any and all liability in regard to any actions, or lack thereof, based on any contents of this blog