Keeping Your Intellectual Property Safe

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Intellectual property protection is one of the greatest concerns of any business that has developed a unique product or process. So what steps can you take to make sure you’re protected?

There’s nothing stopping your competitor from taking a basic idea and running with it, but you can and should protect your inventions and brands. Patents, copyrights and trademarks are the primary means of intellectual property protection. Here are the ins and outs of each.

A patent provides legal protection for an invention or process that is novel, non-obvious and clearly defined, notes Maryalene LaPonsie at Small Business Computing. Patents prevent others from making or marketing your invention for 20 years. To get one, you must file an application with The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They aren’t cheap, and a good patent attorney will make it even more expensive, but if the invention is critical to your business, it’s worth it.

Copyrights protect “original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” In other words, the thoughts in your head are not copyrighted until you put them down on paper, as LaPonsie puts it. But when they’re on paper, you can protect them for the remainder of your life plus 70 years.

Copyright exists the moment you write, record or otherwise create something tangible with your ideas. It also extends to both published and unpublished works. The copyright registration process through the U.S. Copyright Office can give you added protection, but it’s not necessary for asserting your legal rights. Part of your work may be cited or used under fair use provisions, but it can’t be reproduced wholesale without your permission.

A trademark is a symbol, word, slogan or logo used to identify your brand. If you are claiming a trademark for your business, you may do so by adding a TM after your mark. For additional protection, you can register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Doing so allows you to add a registered trademark symbol after your mark.

None of these steps will necessarily prevent someone from stealing your work, but they will give you legal recourse if they do.

Adapted from How to Protect Intellectual Property by Maryalene LaPonsie at Small Business Computing.