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What the Heck is Intellectual Property Anyway?

Image of hands typing "Intellectual Property" on a teal typewriter representing IP law or Intellectual Property lawyers.

You have probably heard that you need to protect your intellectual property but what does that mean?  

Here is a short guide of the different types of intellectual property and how to protect them.

  • Copyright.  A copyright protects your rights when you create something in a way that can be copied and shared – such as when you write an email, create a purchase order form, author a blog article, take a photograph, or design a computer program.  Copyright protection is automatic once the work is fixed in some media. Copyright does not protect ideas – your ideas in a work can be copied just not the work itself. In order to increase your protection and be eligible for more damages in the event someone steals your work, you must register the copyright with the federal Copyright Office.  The process is easy and should always be used to protect important works that are valuable to your business. The copyright for all new work lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
  • Trademark.  A trademark protects your brand, logo, or name from being used by someone else with the same or similar goods or services to promote their business.  You begin to create trademark rights by using your trademark in public to sell your goods or services. These trademark rights will cover your general geographic area that you operate.  If you want to have trademark protection in the entire United States, then you must register your trademark with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office. Your trademark rights continue as long as you use the mark in commerce, and in the case, of the federal trademark, file the appropriate renewals.
  • Patent.  A patent protects you from someone stealing your invention.  The invention must be new, non-obvious, and applicable to a specific industry, agriculture or other field. In order to obtain patent rights, you must register the invention with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and disclose it to the public.  Patents are only valid for a maximum of twenty years and then the public would be free to use your patent.
  • Trade Secrets.  Trade secrets are your business’s special sauce – what makes you competitive in your industry.  Trade secrets can be customer lists, targeted marketing strategies, specific formulas, recipes, and anything else that provides your business value.  These are protected by keeping them secret. It is important that you take procedures to ensure that the trade secrets cannot be accessed and discussed, including requiring employees to sign non-disclosure agreements, limiting access to the trade secrets, and ensuring your customer list is not published on your website.  Your trade secret protection will continue as long as you continue to keep the information secret.

Contact the attorneys at McMillan Metro Faerber at (301) 251-1180 for more information.