The term “intellectual property” refers to the ideas, concepts or artistic creations or arrangements that are authored or otherwise created by a particular person or entity. Examples of intellectual property include patented inventions, copyrighted works and trademarked designs, such as McDonald’s famous golden arches. The content below is intended to give modern business owners an overview of the concept of intellectual property, including information about how to protect their own works and how to grant the use of intellectual property to others who seek it.
A trademark can exist in a number of forms and is something that helps promote a specific business identity. Think of the McDonald’s golden arches example. Because the symbol is a trademarked design, other companies cannot use the same one or one that looks similar enough to be potentially mistaken for the original. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is the entity through which trademarks are to be registered. While registering a trademark is always a good idea, it is not required. However, doing so can help protect business owners in the event that a competitor or separate entity attempts to use the trademark.
The term “patent” refers to a protection given at the federal level to those who invent something. When an invention is patent-protected, others are prevented from manufacturing, selling or otherwise profiting or using the invention for a predetermined amount of time following their attainment of the patent. The concept is intended to encourage people to invent new devices by allowing them the sole right to profit off the invention, at least for a while. Patents are generally grouped into one of three categories: utility patents, design patents and plant patents. Utility patents are the most frequently secured type of patent, and they are given to those who invent machines, methods of doing something or a new chemical compound. Design patents refer specifically to a product or device’s aesthetics, as the name suggests, while the third and final patent type, plant patents, are arguably the rarest and are reserved for those who asexual reproduce new plant varieties.
Copyrights are legal protections for books, manuscripts, photos and other works of creation and art. Granted at the federal level, copyrights give their owners the sole right to reproduce, market, grant permissions or otherwise use a particular created product or work. Copyrights are specific to the work they protect. Copyright protection is automatic upon the material being fixed in a tangible medium, but copyrights can also be registered, which offers additional legal benefits.
IP Forms and Contracts
Different protections for intellectual properties require different forms, contracts and paperwork. For example, the forms used by someone seeking a trademark will probably differ from those needed by someone looking to copyright a certain work.
One of the more common and most important forms and contracts pertaining to intellectual property that today’s business owners must understand is the nondisclosure agreement. Designed to bind those who sign them to secrecy about a particular business, business action or transaction, the nondisclosure agreement is a legal contract that offers recourse in the event that it is broken. Nondisclosure agreements are frequently used to protect what are known as trade secrets from being exposed, which differ from patents in that they are not registered with any governing body and are genuinely, as the term suggests, secret. A fast food giant’s secret spice recipe might be considered a trade secret, for example.
While the processes involved in protecting intellectual property can prove tiresome, tedious and full of red tape, they are necessary for entrepreneurs and business owners who want to ensure they have the sole right to use and profit from something they worked hard to design or create.