Ideas, innovations and original creations exist to be shared with others. But unfortunately, once you share your concepts with the world, it can be all too easy for someone to infringe upon your creativity.
The World Intellectual Property Organization defines intellectual property as “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.” It includes the aspects of your business that aren’t tangible, from your company’s name and logo to the products and ideas you put out.
Since your ideas and knowledge aren’t things you can protect with a lock and key, they are especially vulnerable to others taking or emulating them. If you are a business owner, it’s essential that you safeguard what you own before a problem arises. Here are a few of the most common ways business owners can protect their intellectual property rights.
A trademark serves as a sign that distinguishes the goods or services of one company from those of another. The possibilities for what you can trademark are virtually limitless, from your business name and branding to intangible things such as a sound or fragrance. In the event of an infringement case, a registered trademark will provide legal certainty for determining who is the original holder of the property.
A copyright gives a creator legal rights over the literary and artistic works they create. While it won’t protect ideas, methods of operation or procedures, it does safeguard forms of expression, such as books, movies, music, advertisements and works of art. Copyright allows an owner to collect profits from their work if others use it and generally enables them to control who can use their work.
If you have a one-of-a-kind product or process, a patent will grant you the right to prevent or stop others from exploiting your invention. Unless they have your consent, no one else can make, use or distribute what you have patented. In most cases, a registered patent will protect your product for 20 years until you must apply again.
Trade secrets are any confidential information that gives your business a competitive edge, such as secret recipes, formulas or processes. While you can’t necessarily register trade secrets for legal protections, there are actions you can take to keep your information confidential. You can have your employees sign nondisclosure agreements that legally prohibit them from disclosing your trade secrets to others.
Ideas are meant to be shared, but not without the proper protections. Taking steps to safeguard your intellectual property rights will ensure that no one else benefits from your hard work and innovation.