Protecting Intellectual Property: The Four Approaches

Our society is becoming one based more and more on information. Because of this, the ability to protect and profit from original intellectual property becomes more and more important to involved professionals: writers, photographers, software engineers, inventors, and cottage industries.

If you’ve got intellectual property (IP) you want to protect, you might be wondering exactly how to do it. There are four main ways to protect intellectual property: trademarks, patents, copyrights, and trade secrets. Read on to learn which IP protection would work best for you.

Trademarks: A trademark is a mark that distinguishes one business from another, such as a name, phrase, logo, symbol, image, or a combination of any of these elements. A trademark can also include a jingle or sound. Trademarks have recently come to include a variety of digital and electronic images.

Patents: Patents are intellectual property rights that protect an invention. Inventions must be novel and non-obvious. A patent has a limited lifespan. In addition to patenting inventive devices, scientific discoveries can also be patented. For example, genetically modified seeds and organisms are now patented. The Supreme Court recently ruled, however, that medical companies cannot patent naturally occurring human genes or DNA, though they can patent DNA that they synthetically create in the laboratory.

Copyrights: Copyrights protect literature, music and other creative works. It protects any information or ideas that are discrete and substantive. A copyright gives the holder the privilege of being credited for the work. It also gives the copyright holder the right to:

· Determine who may perform the work

· Decide who may financially benefit from the work

· If the work can be adapted to other forms, and by whom it may be adapted.

Copyrights protect the work for only a limited amount of time. Copyrights taken out prior to 1978 have a limit of 95 years. Those taken out after 1978 last for the lifetime of the holder plus seventy years, or seventy years from publication of the work.

Trade Secrets: Trade secrets are another form of intellectual property protection that can cover a:

· Formula

· Design

· Process or practice

· Compilation of information

· Instrument or pattern

Rather than taking out a patent, copyright, or trademark, a trade secret is protected through employee confidentiality. Employees are required to sign non-compete clauses that prevent them from working with competitors in the future. They also must sign non-disclosure clause that prevents them from disclosing secrets of the business to others. The befit of a trade secret is that its protection doesn’t have a limited time span such as a patent.

The approach you take to protecting you intellectual property depends greatly on what type of property it is and what benefit you are seeking from having it protected. If you are seriously seeking a trademark, trade secret, patent, or copyright, you should consider speaking with an intellectual property attorney. Also called trademark law, an attorney who specializes in this field can ensue that you choose the right type of protection, are prepared to file your trademark or patent successfully, or can help you draft non-compete and non-disclosure clauses that are legally sound and effective for your employees.

How you protect your intellectual property can matter greatly down the road. Starting off on the best foot forward is important, even if you don’t totally understand trademark laws. An Attorney can help you determine how to best protect your intellectual property for the long run.