Intellectual property is the life blood of many small businesses and entrepreneurial enterprises. Knowing how and what may need protection could mean the difference between success and failure. I set forth below three basic things every entrepreneur and business person should do to protect the intellectual property inherent in any organization.
1. Identify your intellectual property
Before you can protect your intellectual property assets, you need to understand what they are. Intellectual property is a bundle of legal rights. These consist essentially of patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Patents are directed primarily to objects of manufacture (things), methods of making or doing something, designs (ornamental aspects of a thing), compositions of matter and plants. If you make devices or compositions of matter, you will likely want to determine whether your device, composition, or methodologies associated with your business may be subject to patent protection. If you make an object, you may also want to consider whether there are any ornamental aspects of your object that may be new and subject to design patent protection.
If you use trademarks, service marks or logos in connection with the sale of your goods or services, you may want to register those marks or logos nationally or internationally. If your business involves training or educational services, any materials used may be subject to copyright protection. If your business has been successful by using particular strategies or processes that have given it a competitive edge over your competition, you may want to properly identify those strategies as trade secrets. Some methodologies used in manufacturing may be better suited to trade secret protection rather than patent protection.
2. Determine whether your intellectual property can be protected
Once you have identified what you believe to be your intellectual property, you need to determine whether it is protectable under current laws. If you believe your new widget is patentable, a patentability search and assessment is a logical next step. A patentability search and assessment will provide you with the information you need to determine whether there is any meaningful patent protection available to you. This applies to objects, as well as methods, compositions of matter, and designs. A proper patentability search will search all relevant patent records and provide you with the most pertinent documentation of the state of the relevant art. A patent professional can assist with interpreting the search results to determine the scope of patent protection likely available to your invention.
Similarly, with a trademark or logo, an availability search and assessment is a prudent next step. This involves searching relevant records to provide you with current uses of the same or similar marks or logos. From this information, you can determine whether to proceed with a trademark or service mark registration. A trademark professional can help you make that determination.
3. Protect What Intellectual Property You Can
Once you have identified and determined what rights are available to you, you can proceed with protecting your intellectual property to maximize your competitive advantage. Patentable aspects of any objects, methods, compositions or designs should be protected. Marks or logos available for use and registration should be the subject of US or international trademark or service mark applications.
Copyrighted materials should be marked with the “©” or “Copyright” followed by the year(s) in which the material was created and name of the owner. Trade secrets, properly identified, should be protected through a series of procedures identified by your organization to ensure confidentiality. This may include, by example, limiting access to certain information, marking documents as “confidential”, ensuring all employees understand their obligations to maintain secrecy of proprietary information, executing confidentiality agreements with third parties where proprietary information may be exchanged.
Protecting your innovative developments is critical to any organization. Having the right person to help you make that decision is important. The Law Office of Kathleen Lynch PLLC is designed to help businesses such as yours keep ahead of the game. The first telephone consultation is free. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.