You created them, so don’t let them get taken

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Intellectual property (commonly referred to by the easier-to-say ‘I.P.’) refers to a category of legal rights for protecting a wide range of creations, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images, and designs, and IP rights are designed to protect the creators of these assets by giving them exclusive rights to use, distribute, and profit from their creations. There are four main types of intellectual property:

  • Patents: granted to inventors for their inventions. They give the inventor the exclusive right to make, use, and sell their invention for a specified period of time.
  • Copyrights: granted to creators of original works (like books, music, software, etc.). They give the creator the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and profit from their work.
  • Trademarks: granted to companies or individuals for their unique symbols, names, and designs that distinguish their products or services from those of their competitors (think: logos, brand names, etc).
  • Trade secrets: confidential information, such as formulas, processes, or customer lists, that give a company a competitive advantage. Trade secrets are protected by law as long as they are kept confidential.

IP protections are an incredibly important concept because they allow you to protect and profit from your unique creations. Here are a few things to consider when looking at how to protect your property:

  • Start with an IP audit: identify all of the IP that you or your company owns, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets (including things that are, but aren’t “official” yet).
  • Register your intellectual property: register your patents, trademarks, and copyrights with the US Patent and Trademark Office or other relevant government agencies. This will provide legal protection and prevent others from using your intellectual property without your permission. We recommend you use a licensed attorney for this, but there are DIY services out there like Trademark Engine that will help you with the paperwork.
  • Use confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements: use agreements like these when sharing sensitive information with employees, contractors, or partners. This can help prevent the unauthorized use or disclosure of trade secrets. A lawyer should draft them for you to ensure that you have the most protection possible.
  • Monitor for infringement: be on the lookout for any disclosure or unauthorized use of your IP. IP protections are meaningless if you’re not diligent about ensuring they’re not being infringed upon. You can do this by conducting regular searches of the internet, trade publications, and other sources of information, among other techniques.
  • Enforce your rights: if you discover infringement or unauthorized use of your IP, contact a lawyer immediately and take legal action to enforce your rights. Again, protection is meaningless if you don’t act top protect them if someone violates your rights. This may include sending cease-and-desist letters or filing a lawsuit.
  • Educate your employees: make sure they know the importance of IP and the company’s policies for protecting it. This can help prevent accidental disclosure or misuse of sensitive information.

By starting with these steps, you can protect your IP and prevent others from using your creations without your permission. It’s important to be proactive, as it can be a valuable asset for your business, and once the cat is out of the bag, it is very difficult to roll back the clock.

Standard disclaimer: We are not lawyers and this is in no way intended to be legal advice. Always talk to a licensed attorney if you need help with legal matters.

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