If you own a business, you should take steps to protect your intellectual property – it may be the most important business asset that you’ll ever own.
Intellectual property (often shortened to IP) is a legal term that encompasses different forms of valuable business assets. The 3 main areas of IP are patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
A lot of folks get confused when talking about copyrights, trademarks, and patents. They will mistakenly refer to a “copyright” when they’re really talking about a “trademark.” Or, they may think that all IP is a patent. And these various IP forms do have similarities, but they are actually very different and serve unique legal and business purposes.
This is explained more completely below, but in general:
- trademarks — protect a brand name or logo found in the creative work
- copyrights — protect the form of the expression; e.g., the writing itself
- patents — protect inventions
A trademark is anything that you use to identify and distinguish your goods and services from the goods and services of others. For example, look at our office sign. Or, look at this webpage. Or, look at our stationary. In all places (and even more!) you’ll see the stylistic (and stylish!) George Law name:
George Law, with the symbol, is our brand name. In the business world, a trademark is commonly referred to as a brand name or just a brand. Trademarks (which also cover service marks) include words, names, symbols, logos and taglines/slogans such as “George Law,” “Coca-Cola,” Nike’s famous “swoosh” logo, and even the Nike slogan “Do It”. You will usually see trademarks on a product or its packaging, while service marks usually appear in advertising for the services or on company websites.
Trademarks are essential to the success of businesses with multiple locations, such as franchises like McDonald’s and Subway, as well as more local non-franchised businesses with several locations. A trademark is one of the most important business assets that you and your business will ever own – your trademark identifies and distinguishes your company and its products/services in the marketplace from its competitors. When a consumer repeatedly sees your trademark, they gain confidence in your brand and your business. Therefore, it is important for you to make sure that you protect and enforce your valuable trademarks. They are part of your intellectual property.
Protect Your Intellectual Property
When you own a trademark, you can prevent others, including competitors, from using your trademark or one that is confusingly similar. One of the best (and easiest) ways to protect a trademark is to register it with the state or federal government. Before you actually adopt and begin using a new trademark for your business, you must conduct a search with the trademark office to ensure that nobody has already registered a trademark or used it in commerce (known as a “common law” trademark) that is confusingly similar to what you intend to be your trademark. If so, they can stop you from using the trademark, which could cost you valuable time and significant expense. But once you’ve registered your trademark, you can prevent others form using it.
George Law can conduct the searches that are necessary to see if your trademark is confusingly similar with any others. We can also register your trademark with the appropriate government agency. Even if you decide not to register your trademark now, George Law can counsel you on how to use your trademarks to put your business in a better position against your competitors. Call (248) 470-4300 for an appointment.
A copyright protects a creator of “original works of authorship,” including musical, artistic, literary and dramatic. Copyright law protects copyright owners by giving them the exclusive right to reproduce and use the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, to distribute copies of the copyrighted work, and to display the copyrighted work publicly for a very long time (95 years after you publish the work).
A copyright protects the “form of expression” (e.g., the writing itself) rather than the “subject matter of the writing” (such as an invention, which a patent protects) or the brand name or logo contained in the creative work (which trademark law protects). They are registered with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress (there is no similar state entity as there is with trademarks).
Copyrights are Intellectual Property
Copyrights can prevent others from using your company’s original creative works without your permission. For example, are concerned that anybody may use your:
- website content
- instruction manuals
- sales brochures
- advertising and promotional materials
You may have protectable legal rights in each listed item as part of your intellectual property. As a copyright owner, you can regulate how all of these things are distributed, reproduced, and presented publicly. Most importantly, you can prevent others (i.e., competitors) from using your copyrighted works or works that are substantially similar to yours.
You don’t have to register your copyright to own the rights to it; just creating the original work can begin your ownership. But if you do register your work, you obtain better protection.
George Law can help your company protect and enforce your creative works under copyright law. Call (248) 470-4300 or send us an email for an appointment.
The U.S. Government issues 3 primary types of patents, but 2 are most frequently used — utility patents and design patents.
- Utility Patents – for the most common types of inventions; i.e., those that produce a “function” or “result”, (such as certain machinery and equipment).
- Design Patents — for purely artistic or ornamental designs for manufactured items that have no effect on the manufactured item’s function (such as a watch’s ornamental face-plate or an office chair’s unique design feature).
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issues patents, and patents it issues are effective only within the United States; international patent protection is available, but it’s more expensive and difficult to obtain. Individual states do not offer patent protection.
If you obtain a U.S. patent, you have the exclusive right to exclude others from using, making, selling, offering to sell, or importing the product into the U.S. for a specific number of years (usually 20 years from when you filed to obtain the patent).
A George Law attorney can help with all of your company’s intellectual property needs. Call (248) 470-4300 or send an email for an appointment.