Most people probably have never heard of the term intellectual property but maybe a little familiar with what the laws actually mean. Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, and symbols, names, and images used in commerce. Intellectual property laws are laws that legally protect the creation that manifest into something of worth or value. Some common examples of intellectual property would be the manuscript for a book, a design for a logo, an idea for a new invention, the lyrics to a hit song, or Coca-Cola™ secret recipe. These laws surround us and are more important than you may think. It’s movies and documentaries made about some big corporation stealing a new start-ups idea or technology. It’s a phrase in business that states…Don’t share your ideas with anyone that has the money to bring them to life without you. That phrase was created with intellectual properties laws in mind.
It may seem pretty harmless in sharing good ideas among friends, family, or colleagues when brainstorming for a new business venture but depending on who’s listening can be the difference between them helping you turn it into reality or them just totally leaving you out the equation. No one seems to want to pay for good ideas anymore unless you set a meeting with the correct documents just to tell them what your idea is, and its paperwork specifically for that. NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement is a legally binding agreement that generally states that the other parties involved in this private meeting may not disclose any information to anyone outside of the people in the meeting. An NCA or Non-Compete Agree generally states that anyone in the meeting may not create or be involved in a similar project anytime in the near future. Both of these documents can be downloaded from the internet, typed or handwritten on a napkin as long as it is clear on terms and is signed by all parties.
The most well-known intellectual property law probably is Copyrighting. The other intellectual property laws are Trademarks, Patents, and Trade Secrets. There are variations of these laws as well. For example, if you are an inventor and depending on what you created, you may need a design patent, utility patent, or provisional patent.
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of “original works of authorship,”. Copyrights protect any original literary, images, or sounds you created. If you are a book author, ghostwriter, artist, graphic designer, Musician, musical engineer, or any other creative, then you will need to get your work copywritten. Copyrights protect you from someone using or reusing your content without permission from the author of the work. We hear about copyright infringement in the music industry all the time because of beat levels and musical patterns. For book authors and copywriters, copyright infringement happens every day and is nearly impossible to control because of the internet. Some websites will have special security to prevent anyone from copying text or downloading any images from their site because of plagiarism and infringement. The digital publishing platforms are starting to introduce new technology that recognizes plagiarized material and stops it from being republished by anyone except the registered author. There is an exception to this rule, and that is the Fair Use act. If someone wants to use a portion or segment of your creation for educational, parody, commenting, or news purposes they can without any legal repercussions. Copyrights generally last for 70 years.
A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from those of another and to indicate the source of the goods. In simpler terms, company logos are trademarked because the specific graphic legally represents the company’s products, services, and company name. Let’s use Mcdonald’s™ and their famous Golden Arches as an example. Some may not know but the word McDonald’s™ is trademarked preventing any other restaurant franchise from using the word. The Golden Arches are trademarked as the logo for the word McDonald’s™. Nikes Just Do It™ is also a registered trademark. Coco-Cola™ bottle shape is even a registered trademark. The Trademark and copyright laws go hand in hand in most cases that’s why people get the usage confused but is nevertheless important to make sure your protect by the right laws.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, “A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor”. In general, patents last for 20 years from the day the inventor attempts to patent their invention but some patents have different expiration lengths. Any invention, new or useful process, mechanism, composition of matter, and any improvements may be patented. Almost everything we use on a daily basis has a US patent number. The toothbrush, zipper, safety pin, Tupperware, velcro, light bulb, toilet paper, and the list goes on. Let’s say you are an entrepreneur that works in fitness and you design a gym bag that’s lightweight, compact, and has a sufficient amount of space and compartments for better organization and you are ready to pitch. Without a US patent, if someone discovers the technology or inter-workings of your gym bag design they can legally claim it as the inventor, even if you created it years ago. You are somewhat protecting the day that you file for your patent in (pending status) but that does not mean your patent will get approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If your patent is accepted then your invention and how it works would become publicly known.
By definition, trade secrets are secret devices or techniques used by a company in manufacturing its products. A trade secret can be a recipe, formula, algorithm, experimental research data, and just about any independent discovery. KFC™ is a great example of their 11 herbs and spices secret recipes but Walmart™ is one of many companies that keep the way they operate a legal secret because companies can also register distribution methods, marketing strategies, or production processes as a trade secret. The list goes on to a company even keeping its clients or list of vendors a trade secret. The New York Times Bestseller List is an example of this type of trade secert.