Intellectual property (IP) rights grant ownership and other benefits to an individual or company, defending it from improper use by others who do not have such a claim to the IP. Various IP laws exist to protect your brand, your creative works, your inventions, and your manufacturing processes from competitors and others acting in bad faith.
But what are the different types of intellectual property rights and protections? And how do you know which one is right for you?
Trademarks grant legal protection to names, logos, slogans, symbols, color schemes, designs, or certain unique words. Trademarks can be difficult to obtain from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) because they must be uniquely distinguishable from any previously registered trademark to avoid confusion.
The main benefits of owning a trademark are that it can protect your product or image from infringement, counterfeiting, misuse, and fraud. Trademark symbols also give notice to consumers and competitors alike that your product or service is owned by you.
A patent grants legal ownership of an invention to its inventor. This will allow you to be the primary owner, builder, distributor, and seller of your invention. Technology companies commonly use patents to protect their new devices and software.
To be eligible for a legal patent, your invention must be unique or “novel,” and you have proven usefulness. You must also be able to illustrate how you developed your invention and refined it over time. Typically, it must also impress others who work in the field relevant to your invention. You cannot patent a mere idea. You need something more concrete and real than that.
Copyrights grant some protection to “original works of authorship” and typically apply to different types of media or art. Music, books, film, video games, literature, architecture, and design may all fall under the category of copyright-protected works.
You do not need to file for official copyright to receive protection under copyright law. However, if you do file for a copyright, you could be afforded additional benefits of legal protection. Copyright protections typically remain in effect for nearly a century after the creator’s death.
Trade secrets could include special formulas used in a laboratory, secret recipes in the kitchen, manufacturing processes, and various methods, strategies, and information relating to the sale, creation, or distribution of a product. Not everything can be considered a trade secret. A trade secret is a collection of information that, if released to the public or a direct competitor, could inherently hinder work operations.
According to the USPTO, a trade secret must be information that has independent value by not being known, has value to others who are competitors or may directly benefit from knowing the information, and that the owners of the trade secret have gone to great lengths to keep it a secret. What exactly constitutes a ‘trade secret’ can vary from state to state across America.