Whether you are starting a business, developing a new product, creating art, or writing a story, your ideas are important. In fact, when you generate a good idea and begin to execute it, the results can be both thrilling and lucrative. Not only are you able to explore new avenues of creativity and revenue, but you may also have the opportunity to change the world or benefit others.
For this reason, when another party infringes upon or otherwise threatens your idea, it’s natural to become defensive. After all, you put significant thought and effort into your creation, and you should be the one to reap the rewards. Fortunately, intellectual property laws support this very belief, and lawmakers have created numerous avenues to protect your ideas and your future with intellectual property law.
What Is Intellectual property?
The term “intellectual property” can refer to a large variety of creations of the mind. As such, each type of IP comes with its own unique stipulations and laws. Whether you are looking to protect your intellectual property or are simply beginning to explore a new idea, it’s best to know as much as possible about the type of property involved and potential ways you can protect it.
Intellectual property can exist as one of six major types: patents, trademarks, copyrights, designs, databases, and trade secrets. Learn more about each below.
- Patents The patent area of intellectual property law is dedicated to inventions and products. When you patent a product, you are preventing other people from making an identical product and selling it on the market. This means that you have a unique standing in the community as the product’s inventor and sole distributor. If other individuals or companies want to market and sell what you’ve patented, they must first obtain permission from you. You must apply for a patent through the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). However, it is important to note that patents do not last forever. With few exceptions, patents last 20 years from the initial filing date. In addition, not all products and ideas can be patented. Mathematical methods, scientific discoveries, surgical procedures, game strategies, and business methods are among the ideas that cannot be placed under a patent.
- Trademarks Trademarks are common in the United States, and most people are familiar with the US trademark symbol (™). Trademarks protect visual aspects of a brand, such as a logo and packaging. However, almost anything that can be used to help a brand or service stand out from its competitors can be trademarked. For example, the world’s largest search engine company has distinctive colors and branding on its homepages, buildings, and products. These are trademarked, so this specific combination and style cannot be used by others.
- Copyright Copyright law is applied to artistic and literary projects. Items like books, movies, paintings, and other types of art and entertainment are often copyright protected. This allows the creators to protect their ideas and the content that makes the final project unique. Copyrights are different from a trademark in that they apply specifically to the content, not the branding. For example, a well-known book series’ special font and logo might be trademarked, but the content and story are copyrighted instead. The copyright prevents others from writing books too similar to the famous series.
- Design Design is a unique area of intellectual property law because it does not encompass the essential function of an object or its branding. Instead, it protects the intrinsic design of the object or the ways in which the object is aesthetically different from competitors. For example, famous tennis shoe companies secure design protections for their uniquely designed tennis shoes. This doesn’t mean no other shoe company can make tennis shoes; it just means that they cannot utilize the specific patented design that makes the original shoe unique to its creator.
- Database This is a rather narrow aspect of intellectual property because it truly only applies to databases. Databases are collections of information that are stored in one place and accessed via computers—and many prove valuable for companies seeking contact information, demographic information, and other knowledge about another entity’s client base. When a database is created, its owner has sole control over its content and who can use it. These rights last for 15 years, at which time others may use the database.
- Trade Secrets Trade secrets are items or services certain companies have created and customized to gain an advantage over their competitors. As you might expect, trade secrets are often found in restaurants and fast food companies. For example, a certain fried chicken chain’s secret blend of herbs and spices is considered a trade secret. The creators know that they have formulated an appealing seasoning for their product, and they have an edge over the competition by keeping the recipe a secret. There is no official process by which users must create an official trade secret. For example, if a business had to apply for the designation, they would need to divulge the trade secret to a governing body, which defeats the entire purpose of a secret. Instead, a business simply decides to keep the components of a competitive product or method to themselves. They must simply be able to present their case to an official panel to protect the secret from infringement or defend it if they are accused of trade secret appropriation. Similarly, it is the burden of the company to protect its own trade secret. For example, the aforementioned chicken restaurant might require employees to sign a nondisclosure agreement before learning the ingredients of the spice blend. This allows the company to take legal action if an employee or ex-employee spreads the secret recipe.
Contact Kinder Law Group
If you have created an idea, product, piece of art, or database that needs protection, an IP lawyer can help. The team at Kinder Law Group takes pride in protecting inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs from those who try to steal their hard-earned ideas and profit from them. We understand the hard work and dedication that goes into creating and developing a new idea, and we work hard to protect its future and your rights to your creation.
If you believe someone has violated your protected intellectual property, our Irvine intellectual property attorneys offer skilled representation. Infringement and misappropriation cases are a significant focus for our firm, and we are passionate about fighting those who try to profit from your property. For more information or to request a consultation, contact us online today.