How to Help Protect Your Intellectual Property (IP)

Man on computer protecting intellectual propertyMan on computer protecting intellectual property

Many companies do not know exactly what intellectual property (IP) they may own, while others are uncertain how to protect and maximize these valuable assets. When someone infringes on your IP, it may dilute the ability of consumers to associate your company as the source of your goods and services.

To protect your company, it is important to first understand what is typically included as intellectual property. Generally, it involves a creation of the human mind, such as an invention, literary work or musical composition. The different areas of IP law include trademark (such as service mark, trade dress and trade name), as well as copyright, patent and trade secret.

Why it is Important to Register Your IP

While some intellectual property, such as a trademark or copyright, can be valid and protectable even if it is unregistered, registration offers important and key benefits. Registering a trademark or service mark with the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) serves as constructive notice to the public of your claim of ownership of the mark.

An owner who has successfully registered his mark with the USPTO also receives the following:

  • An incontestable right to use the mark under certain conditions.
  • A rebuttable presumption of the validity of the mark, the registrant’s ownership of the mark, and exclusive right to use the mark in commerce.
  • The ability to seek costs, attorney’s fees, and treble damages (or three times the actual amount of financial losses) in infringement lawsuits.
  • The destruction of the infringing articles.
  • The ability to litigate in federal court.

How to Register Your Trademark and Service Mark

You can file an electronic application to register your company’s intellectual property. The Lanham Act governs federal trademark registration and allows trademark and service mark owners to pay a fee (typically $325) and file an application and verified statement to the USPTO.

Applicants must state when they first used the mark in commerce and include a description of the goods that the mark is connected to, along with a drawing of the mark. In the verified statement, applicants must also state that they believe they are the owner of the mark, that the mark is used in commerce and that no other person has the right to use the mark.

How to Register Your Copyright

Copyright owners who register their work with the United States Copyright Office also receive significant benefit in any subsequent judicial proceeding. A certificate of copyright registration constitutes prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate. Copyright owners who register their works can also potentially receive statutory damages from an infringer.

Copyright owners can apply online to the United States Copyright Office to register a copyright. The application requires a $35 filing fee and the applicant to provide: name and address, title of the work, the year in which it was created and other preparation and identification information. [According to the USCO website, processing time for an e-filing is generally eight months.¹]

How to Register Your Patent

Patent applications are more complicated than trademark or copyright applications and are often filed by registered patent attorneys experienced in the patent drafting and filing process. A patent applicant must pay a fee (these fees range in amount) and produce an oath, a drawing of the invention and a “specification.” Applicants must state in the oath their country of citizenship and that they believe they are the first inventor of the process, machine, manufacture or improvement.

The specification must contain a written description of the invention and the manner and process of making and using it in a full and clear manner. The specification also must contain one or more “claims” that point out the specific subject matter that the applicants regard as their invention.

Using Written Agreements to Your Advantage

Using, adhering to and enforcing various written agreements can help your company protect and profit from its Intellectual Property (IP). No agreement can accomplish everything but here are some to consider for advancing your IP portfolio.

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA): An NDA, or confidentiality agreement, can help keep proprietary or trade secret information private. Among other details, it should plainly state who owns the IP rights associated with the product or service, and who has the right to enforce those IP rights.

Non-Competition Agreements: A non-competition agreement can help lessen the risk that a vital employee will take critical information, such as processes, customer lists or formulas, to a competitor or a start-up company.

Employment Contracts: When an author, artist or designer is an independent contractor or creates work outside the scope of his or her employment, a carefully drafted contract can eliminate potential conflicts by clearly, and broadly, defining the person’s scope of employment and assigning all IP rights generated from his or her work to the employer or hirer.

Licensing Agreements: In a license, one entity grants another permission to use IP rights(s) within a defined time, market or territory. Typically complex, these agreements may contain provisions related to exclusivity, transferability, revocability and warranties.