What is Intellectual Property and Why it Should Be Protected

You are probably familiar with personal property. For instance, you may pay personal property taxes on your car or home. But how familiar are you with intellectual property?

Perhaps even more important than the physical property we own is the property we create. In essence, intellectual property is something owned by the mind. But when we develop an idea of the mind and speak it into existence, it’s no longer controlled by our thought process. It’s controlled by whoever owns it. And as we often see, that can be a bit more complicated.

Whether it’s an invention, design, or trade secret, we’ll explain how intellectual property works and the best way for you to protect it.

Intellectual Property Defined

As the name suggests, intellectual property refers to an intellectual creation. This could be an invention, logo, design, symbol, name, trade secret, or the like. Intellectual property can be developed by an individual, group of individuals, or a corporation. It can also be developed by an individual on behalf of a corporation.

For instance, a company may hire an employee or independent contractor for product development purposes, such as a graphic designer to create a logo or other company design. In such cases, it’s important to delineate who owns the rights to any intellectual property developed during the course of employment.

Who Owns Intellectual Property

The first step in protecting intellectual property rights is to establish ownership of it before it’s even created. This measure will go a long way in preventing future legal disputes over intellectual property ownership. If you own a company, for instance, employment contracts should state that the company retains the right to any intellectual property developed by an employee or independent contractor during employment.

In addition to the standard employment contract, you should also have an attorney draft a confidentiality agreement or perhaps a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). A carefully drafted NDA will preclude employees from sharing with those outside the company any trade secrets or other proprietary information learned while employed.

We’ll discuss how to protect intellectual property in more detail in a bit, but it entails registering something like yours in the public domain. While this protects your ownership of it, registering the idea or creation publicly also circulates it to the general public.

As the name suggests, a trade secret is not something you typically want to publicly announce. Instead, it’s something you want to keep a tight lid on and protect internally from reaching your competitors or the general public.

This is where NDAs come into play. They will often be your only means of protection for an idea that you want to keep within the corporation. For this reason, it would serve you well to have an experienced attorney draft the legal language necessary to protect your trade secrets and other intellectual property rights.

How to Protect Intellectual Property

If you own personal property, such as a car or a home, you likely have it insured. If your car is stolen or your home flooded, you would want to make sure your investment is protected. Intellectual property is no different. You should make sure any intellectual property you create is safeguarded from people who may try to steal the idea and claim it as their own.

A good way to protect your intellectual property is to register or formally file it with the appropriate government entity. By being the first to publicly register your intellectual property, you prevent others in the public sphere from passing it off as their own creation. How you register your work will vary depending on the intellectual property type.

For instance, works of art and literary works are often protected by copyright, which may be registered with the United States Copyright Office. An invention is protected by a patent, while a catchphrase, logo, or trade name is protected with a trademark. You must apply for a patent through the United States Patent and Trademark office.  Trademarks can also be registered through the United States Patent and Trademark Office or through state trademark registries.

The Intellectual Trade Administration also has some good advice for how to protect your intellectual property outside the US. For instance, if you do business with countries that have free-trade agreements with the US, you need to file for protection of your intellectual property in each individual country with which you do business to ensure it is protected overseas.

On the other hand, if you do business with a country in the European Union, you need to file for protection with the EU itself. Stopfakes.gov has more details on how to protect your intellectual property rights abroad, as well as many helpful resources including online training and a business guide to intellectual property rights.

Hiring an Attorney Is Best Practice

There are many nuances to protecting intellectual property rights. The best thing you can do to protect your interests at home and abroad is to retain an experienced attorney to help you navigate these nuances.

Even after you have taken the appropriate measures to protect your intellectual property rights, someone could attempt to pass your idea off as his or her own or stake a claim to your creative work. In such cases, it’s important to have an experienced intellectual property team on your side to fight for your rights.

Berkeley Law and Technology Group is an intellectual property law firm that helps clients turn an idea into a marketable creation that can be patented and protected. We provide our qualified intellectual property services to clients throughout the United States, Asia, and Europe.

Browse our website or schedule a consultation with us to learn more about what sets us apart. Whether you’re looking to settle a dispute or simply trying to be proactive in protecting your interests, we have the knowledge and expertise to be by your side.