Every business has intellectual property even if it doesn’t engage in “creative” work like developing new products. The company’s business processes, customer lists, product and packaging designs, presentations, marketing materials, logos, taglines, and other work products are all forms of intellectual property that may be protected under the law. However, intellectual property law can be complicated and you may not have the rights you think you have or you may lose them because you are not taking appropriate steps to secure them. Here are a few key points every business owner should think about and discuss with an attorney:
Why Should You Protect Your Intellectual Property?
Your intellectual property is an asset. It increases the value of your business and helps you generate revenue. For example, your corporate logo, name, slogan, and other identifiers are how people associate your products or services with your company. You worked hard to build a good business reputation that gives you a competitive advantage, and you want to protect it. Under the law, there are steps you can take to keep others from misusing your intellectual property to hurt your business and benefit their own.
How Do You Protect Your Intellectual Property?
Trademark, copyright, and patent registration, when available, is the best way to protect the different types of intellectual property. Consulting an attorney is recommended because the filing and research requirements can be difficult and there are plenty of pitfalls for the unwary.
The first step an attorney will take is to search the appropriate national database to confirm that your intellectual property is unique. If it is too similar to someone else’s work, you may be denied registration. You want to do this investigation before you spend time and money to file an application.
If you have confirmed that your work is unique, the appropriate application must be filed with the relevant federal authority (e.g. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, U.S. Copyright Office). The registering authority will conduct its own review and grant registration if you have met the requirements.
Registering your trademark, copyright, or patent is important because it puts others on notice of your ownership rights. It also allows you to pursue legal actions to prevent infringement and recoup damages caused to your business.
How Can You Avoid Violating Another Party’s Intellectual Property?
You must be careful not to infringe on other people’s rights. When in doubt, consult an attorney for advice. This is true even if the person who created the intellectual property works for you and is creating it for your benefit. You, as the employer or client, should not automatically assume that you will own the intellectual property rights to the employee or contractor’s work product. If you hire an employee or independent contractor for your business to develop intellectual property, you should have a lawyer draft an appropriate agreement to ensure you own the rights to the work that they perform.
How Can Outside General Counsel Help Secure Your Intellectual Property?
If you do not have in-house counsel to regularly vet your intellectual property and take steps to protect your rights, you may benefit from outside general counsel, who can help you on an as-needed basis. Your outside counsel can provide a wide variety of services, including:
- Verifying that logos, names, and other identifying materials are not infringing on a third party’s rights
- Reviewing all possible intellectual property and taking appropriate action to protect your ownership
- Ensuring that, where relevant, all intellectual property produced by your employees belongs to your business through updating employment agreements or creating licensing agreements or assignments of rights
- Drafting Non-Disclosure Agreements to prevent employees and others from disclosing your protected intellectual property.
Whether you are a start-up company or have been in business for years, it is important to have an attorney review your intellectual property. Our attorneys provide legal risk assessments as well as handle individual matters for business clients as needed to help them maximize their assets and minimize legal problems. Contact us for a consultation.