5 Steps to Protect Your Intellectual Property

The term Intellectual Property or the acronym IP means (and provides) protection for creations of the mind. More specifically, they grant the creators/owners exclusive rights to these creations.

IP is divided into two categories: artistic and industrial:

o Artistic Intellectual Property rights are protected by Copyrights.

o Industrial Intellectual Property rights are protected by Patents and Trademarks.

General opinion and first thought that comes to a mind when it’s about IP are artistic works, scientific patents and similar. That’s a big mistake. Your Intellectual Property are all information, resorts you have used and products of your work. We are talking about customer lists, business processes, publications, trademarks, etc during and after your employment with the company. These items are considered Intellectual Property and proprietary information.

Intellectual property serves to protect company assets and prevent exploitation by others.

The licensing of intellectual property has become a multi-billion dollar industry. As a result, business owners and individuals are looking for ways to preserve and maximize the value of their ideas, inventions, artistic creations and other forms of intellectual property. So if you are starting a small business or already have a successful company, consider the importance of protecting your IP as a part of your initial small business plan.

Here you can get basic and the most important 5 steps information and advices about securing protection for your intellectual property in domestic and foreign markets:

1) Define your IP needs and plan your IP strategy

The first and the basic thing you should do when you decide to protect your company and its intellectual values is to define what kind of intellectual property you own, and how does the IP protection fit in your company strategy, since, after all, it is a tool to be used in implementing your overall strategy.

It is suggested that business owners should constantly evaluate whether any of their new ideas, methods or technologies can be patented.

There are three types of protection and you should choose the one that suit your needs and your IP:

Copyright protection: A copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects the authors of “original works of authorship” such as literary, dramatic, musical and artistic both written and unwritten.A copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing.There are several rules for how long a copyright lasts. For copyrights created after January 1978, they last for the life of the author plus 70 years. Patent protection: A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.The general term of a new patent is 20 years from the date the application was filed.

Trademark protection: A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.A trademark right lasts indefinitely as long as the owner continues to use the trademark. Periodic renewal is required.

2) Intellectual property and your employees, contractors and freelancers

You should treat your employees and consultants as potential inventors and keep abreast of their creative input. It is crucial that your company has a contracts which guarantee that all IP they create in connection with their employment or engagement stays in the company and they can not take it or spread it outside of the firm (or if they leave the firm). Both employer and employee must understand the conditions under which they work and create within the company.

Many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that they own the results of a contractor or freelancer’s services upon payment of the agreed fee. Copyright law, however, provides that freelancers and independent contractors automatically retain the copyright to any original work they create absent a written agreement to the contrary. Therefore, business owners should make sure that sensitive information wouldn’t be any kind of misused.

For that reason exists copyright law, which provides that intellectual property created by employees within the scope of their employment is automatically owned by the employer.

3) Register important marks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to obtain the strongest protection available by law. When you get to their office and meet your reviewer, consultant or attorney, which will work on your IP protection, you must be well prepared. This means that the reviewer must understand what business you are in, so that he/she could understand your IP capture in context. There is a legal difference if your organization create know-how, copyright works, confidential information or if it creates registrable IP such as patents, designs or trade marks.

You must also check if IP databases exist, since there may be a need to have centralized, up-to-date databases for patents, designs, trade marks or licenses.

Whether your organization is large or small to capture IP you need:

A general IP policy, including guidelines regarding IP disclosure and ownership of IP by contractors; pro-forma confidentiality agreements, R&D agreements and collaboration agreements; and appropriate IP ownership clauses in contracts, including employee contracts, manufacturing/sales agreements.

4) Foreign Markets

Once you are familiar with available options to protect your intellectual property, you might consider conducting due diligence of potential foreign partners and determine where companies similar to yours have experienced intellectual property problems.

If you do, or intend to do, business in foreign markets, especially in countries where intellectual property violations are common, you should strongly consider filing your patents and trademarks and their relevant translations with the appropriate government agency in each country where protection is sought.

In some countries, the first party to file an application can prevent others from registering and obtaining legal protections for the same patent or trademark. Most countries do not require that you register your copyrights before enforcing them, but registration with the appropriate government agency is strongly recommended because it provides several benefits such as proof of ownership.

5) Monitor your IP rights

Once that you have the registration of your intellectual property approved by the appropriate government, you should work on maintaining records so you can enforce your IP rights. This means that if you keep sufficient, historical documentation that undoubtedly establishes your entitlement to those rights, you have a better chance to prevail in a dispute over intellectual property rights. If you have adequate proof of your IP rights, government agencies will help you enforce your rights in accordance with law.

It is also valuable that you record copies of license agreements with administrative bodies, at national and local levels, since in most of the countries these administrative agencies have the authority to confiscate and destroy counterfeit good and impose fines.

Knowledge about intellectual property rights and an understanding of the fundamentals of copyrights, trademarks and patents is vital in today’s global market. Many companies, however, fail to take the steps necessary to fully protect their valuable intellectual property assets. According to government agencies, more than $500 billion in legitimate global sales is lost each year to counterfeit goods. You may have no legal recourse against imitations if counterfeiters are the first to register your company’s name, logo or product design, among other intellectual property, in other foreign countries.

It is a common misconception among many business owners that trademark protection is obtained by incorporation or by filing of a partnership or assumed business name. Such business name filings, however, do not protect your business name as a trademark. Only federal registration of your trademark provides any assurance that you can use your name in the marketplace of interstate commerce.