Intellectual Property is not real property (land), or moveable, tangible property (chattels), but “property of the mind.” Your ideas belong to you, and if they are profitable, you should convert them into a protectable form. Some examples of ideas in protectable form include patents, trade secrets, trademarks, trade names and copyright. Every business person should know how and when to protect their Intellectual Property.
You can protect an invention from theft by filing a patent with the federal government. A patent gives you the sole right to profit from your invention for up to 20 years. To obtain this “monopoly,” you must disclose how your product is made – this is what distinguishes it from others. At the end of your monopoly, your patent automatically becomes public. Many businesses continue to protect their inventions by improving and modifying their products, and then filing new patents.
Another method of protecting an invention is by cloaking it with trade secrets. Big corporations often have a large number of patents, but also try to protect their manufacturing and assembly techniques by keeping them top secret, and never letting non- employees see certain areas of their production centres. Sometimes, they require their employees to sign non disclosure contracts, in which they promise “never to tell.” Even with non disclosure contracts, it is difficult to prevent employees from walking off with trade secrets. Businesses should be careful about to whom their trade secrets are disclosed.
Many businesses invest a tremendous amount of time and effort in their corporate names and logos. These are protected as tradenames or trademarks. Once it is registered with the federal government, no one else may legally use a name or mark. You do not actually have to register a name or logo to protect it. However, doing so may help avoid complicated and expensive claims.
Copyright is a way to protect literary, artistic and creative endeavours. Copyright is frequently established in product catalogues or company brochures. It is used to prohibit others from using words and images. For example, if you hire someone to write computer software for your business, you should make sure your copyright in the software is protected. Otherwise, it could cost you money to use or distribute something that was created at your request, especially for you! If you are an employer, you probably already have the copyright in your employees’ work. But if you hire a consultant to develop a product or business tool, make sure you address the issue of copyright.
Intellectual Property may not always be tangible, but it can be extremely valuable, and the cost of not protecting it can be great. If you have Intellectual Property, make sure that no one makes off with it. It can be very hard to trace if it goes missing!