What is intellectual property?
Intellectual property rights protect intangible property. Your ideas, inventions, musical creations, films, or artwork belong to you just as a physical object like your car may belong to you. If someone hotwires your car late one night and steals it, law enforcement can track down the vehicle and, hopefully, apprehend the thief.
But, how do you stop someone from stealing a thought? Or prove that they stole an idea? Once your intellectual property is “out there,” how do you maintain control over its use?
Intellectual property law provides a way to allow people and corporations to maintain control over their ideas and creations – encouraging innovation by allowing people to exclusively profit from their own ideas, at least for a reasonable period of time.
Your SC intellectual property lawyer on the Axelrod team can help you to protect and to enforce your intellectual property rights – call us now for a consultation.
Below, I’ll discuss the different types of intellectual property, the rights that intellectual property law is designed to protect, and how to enforce your exclusive right to trade secrets, patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
What is Intellectual Property?
There are four main types of intellectual property rights – each protects a different form of intellectual property, and you can use each of them individually or in conjunction with one another depending on your situation.
Some intellectual property rights require that you register them, some are automatically created without any registration, and registration is optional for others.
Trade secrets consist of information that is critical to your business’ operations. The information cannot be public, and you must have taken reasonable steps to keep the information secret. Trade secrets may include information like:
- Customer lists;
- Business plans;
- Research and development ideas;
- Components or ingredients; or
- Any information that is valuable to your business and that is closely guarded.
Trade secrets do not have to be registered with any government office – your trade secrets are automatically protected if you are taking reasonable steps to maintain their secrecy. If someone misappropriates (steals) your trade secrets, we may be able to sue the thief on your behalf.
Can you ever reveal trade secrets without losing protection?
Any person who needs access to your trade secrets should be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement before the information is provided to them – your trade secrets attorney on the Axelrod team can help you to draft appropriate non-disclosure agreements based on your employee’s need to know, placing restrictions on their use of the information when appropriate.
You must safeguard the secrecy of trade secrets, including the use of appropriate non-disclosure agreements because, if you voluntary provide the information to someone, there is no misappropriation, you may not be able to sue for damages, and the information will lose its protected status as a trade secret…
The law protects your trade secrets, but only to an extent. For example, if someone can reverse-design your product or invention, without misappropriating the information from you, it will no longer be protected as a trade secret. What then?
There are two general types of patents that we can apply for – utility patents or design patents. Utility patents will describe your invention in terms of how it works – its function or utility. A design patent will describe your invention in terms of how it looks – its appearance or aesthetics.
Depending on your situation, a utility patent, a design patent, or both may be necessary to protect your business.
Patent law provides long-term protection for your product or invention, but patents must be registered with the US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO). If your patent is not registered before you begin marketing your product, it will become available to the public after a short period of time.
If you do register your patents before you begin marketing your product, you may be protected for a longer period of time – ordinarily 20 years for a utility patent or 15 years for a design patent.
You can also protect one or more trademarks associated with your business or product. What is a trademark?
A trademark is anything that allows the public to identify your product as being associated with your business. Trademarks protect your brand, which is critical is today’s market. Although trademarks often consist of the name of the product (called a “wordmark”), other things can be used as a trademark, including:
- Words (a “wordmark”);
- Sounds; or
Your trademarks are protected even if you do not register them – but you should register them. By registering your trademarks, you can:
- Discover whether anyone else is using a similar trademark;
- Prevent anyone else from registering your trademarks; and
- Benefit from additional rights such as nationwide enforcement of your trademarks.
Copyrights protect creative works, like writings, pictures, or music, that are preserved in a “tangible medium of expression.” The work that you seek to copyright must be written down or recorded in some form.
You automatically have a copyright in works that you create, which will last well after your lifetime. Although you do not have to register a copyright, you should. Why?
If you register your copyrights, you gain additional protections, including statutory damages up to $150,000 even if your actual damages are less and the ability to make the copyright infringer pay your attorney fees.
As with trademarks, registering your copyrights lets the world know that you own the copyright for the creative work and that infringers will be subject to a lawsuit…
SC Intellectual Property Attorney in Myrtle Beach
Your Myrtle Beach intellectual property attorney at Axelrod and Associates will consult with you about what you need to do to protect your intellectual property rights, including registering your trademarks, copyrights, or patents and enforcing your intellectual property rights when someone infringes on them.