You have the concept. You’ve done the market research. You have the talent. You are ready to introduce your brilliant new idea to the world. Almost. There is one more thing to consider prior to introducing your business, service, item and/or invention – an intellectual property protection plan.
Intellectual property is something that exists based on your own unique design or creativity and can include products, services, or works of art, among many other things. The most common tools available to protect your intellectual property from copycats, knock-offs, and corporate thievery include patents, copyrights, and trademarks. While sometimes overlooked by first-time entrepreneurs and inventors, establishing and executing an intellectual property plan is a vital step towards building a successful and safeguarded business. And while many businesses thrive without patented products or intellectual property, those companies whose products or services qualify for such legal protections will immediately and significantly increase their value by acquiring and applying those safeguards.
Intellectual Property Basics
The first step is to consider what kind of Intellectual Property plan will best suit your business.
Patents are defined as by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. At their core, patents are about exclusivity. Once awarded, a patent gives the holder power to enforce the exclusive rights they have over their patented invention it is up to the individual patent holders to do so.
Design patents can be granted for the exclusive rights to make, use, and sell an original, ornamental, non-obvious industrial design. In short, design patents protect an item’s appearance, not the function or utility of the product. Examples of design patents include: furniture, cars, fonts, emojis, shoes, and jewelry. Design patents expire 14 years from the patent grant date.
Utility patents may be granted to an individual who constructs or invents any original machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, machine, or any useful and new improvements. Examples of items utility patents apply to include: pharmaceuticals, software and business processes and computers. A utility patent protects the function and utility of an invention, granting an individual exclusive rights for 20 years.
Plant patents can be granted to an individual or inventor who has “invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of a plant other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state.” Basically, hybrids, mutants and transformed plants are considered to be applicable for a plant patent. Some examples of eligible plants for plant patents include: micro fungi, algae, seeds, fruits and processes for plant reproduction. A plant patent is valid for twenty years from the date of when the patent was filed.
Copyright & Trademarks
Copyright is a legal concept with its basis in the United States Constitution, which covers published and unpublished works. Copyright is defined by the USPTO as
“the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.”
It is important to know that unless you have a copyright in place, your ideas are considered public domain. Examples of copyright items include: musical works, plays, novels and movies. Copyrights are valid for the lifetime of the artist, plus an additional 70 years.
Trademarks, used to prevent duplication of a similar mark, are words, names, devices, or symbols used to distinguish your invention, business, or idea from others. A business organization, a legal entity or an individual can own a trademark. Trademark rights cannot prevent other individuals or companies from actually duplicating or selling the same invention or services, as long as it has a clearly different trademark.
This is obviously a simplistic overview of the most basic concepts of intellectual property protections. It is important that you devote the time and the resources necessary to implement the best plan for your business and to engage appropriate legal guidance in doing so. Once you have secured intellectual property protections, your startup will become immediately more attractive and intriguing to potential investors and future partners. As a result, it is one of the most effective growth levers for companies whose products and services qualify for these important safeguards.