Protecting Intellectual Property: What You Need To Know

Illustration by Andres Gonzalez via Dribbble

So, you’ve got an idea for a business. What’s next?

In the day and age of innovation and ideas, it’s more important than ever to protect your intellectual property and prospective business, product, or service. After all, you don’t want to put in all of that work, only to have it be stolen or copied soon after.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to get smart about intellectual property, trademarking, and ways to protect your ideas and business.

For many, the process of protecting your intellectual property may seem like a time-consuming, stressful, and confusing task. Between legality processes, specific laws, and different types of protections to choose from, it can be hard to find a place to start.

However, when it comes to your ideas, it’s essential to treat them as valuable and worth protecting. Meaning: it’s time to buckle up and get the protection that you (and your ideas) deserve.

With that being said, we’re here to outline everything you need to know about protecting your intellectual property, as well as guiding you through the confusing world of trademarks, patents, and copyright law.

What is intellectual property?

Great minds have great ideas. And even greater minds take the actions to protect their ideas. Intellectual property (or IP) refers to “creations of the mind.” Meaning: while these ideas may not exist in a physical sense, they can still be trademarked and claimed just like any other physical property.

How can I protect my intellectual property?

Once you have a great idea, it’s natural for others to copy it, or even outright steal your idea. To avoid this, try to talk about your ideas with only the people you trust and look into a more legitimate and legislative way to protect your intellectual property.

To avoid copycats and stolen ideas, it’s extremely important to protect your intellectual property. Typically, intellectual property can be protected under one of these three categories: trademark, copyright, or patent. Regardless of the way you choose to protect your ideas, finding a method that works best for you (and your product or service) is a step in the right direction.

 icon-angle-right Copyrighting

A copyright protects original forms of authorship. This can take place more in the artistic side of things, like art and sculptures, music, novels, and (in some cases) architecture. Once your idea has been transformed into a physical entity, it’s wise to look into copyright laws to best protect your product.

Copyrighting has many perks when it comes to your business, service, or product. As the owner, you have more control than ever before. This means you have the right to:

  • Sell your work
  • Display your work
  • Make copies of your work
  • Adapt or derive your work.

Copyrighting is a surefire way to protect your ideas and products. After all, if someone tries to steal your work/ideas or display/perform without your permission, they’re infringing on the copyright.

 icon-angle-right Patenting

Patents are a bit different from copyrights and trademarks, mainly because they typically protect original inventions of products rather than works of art, design, or music. In order to patent your product, it must fall within one or more of these guidelines:

  • A new process or way of doing things (an assembly line or software)
  • A machine (a smartphone or tablet)
  • A manufacture made up of existing material (concrete)
  • A composition of matter (a chemical drug or new form of plastic)

 icon-angle-right Trademarking

A trademark is an entity that acts as the source and identity of your product or service. For example, the golden arches of the McDonald’s logo are considered a registered trademark. The combination of the iconic logo and the signature golden-yellow color makes it a recognizable symbol across the globe.

Another example is the green Starbucks logo, with the brand’s name written in a circle around the main image. This combination of the brand name, logo, and signature color makes it an identifiable trademark around the world.

However, more than just words, phrases, and designs can be trademarked. When it comes to your business, there are many things that can be considered trademarks:

  • The name of your business, service, or company
  • The name of your product or service
  • Your logo or label name
  • A design or symbol
  • A sound or original song
  • A product package

Finally, when it comes to trademarks, there are three different types. Trademarks that aren’t registered yet are typically denoted with a ™ symbol to the bottom right of the logo, while the “SM” symbol is used for service marks that haven’t been registered. Registered trademarks are noted with an “R” symbol, and are typically viewed as the standard of professionalism when it comes to a brand.

How do I file for a trademark?

Once you’ve decided on a way to protect your property, the next step is to, well, take the next step! Taking trademarks, for example, it’s important to have things in order before you begin to file for your official trademark:

  1. Make sure your logo and brand name are professional, clean, and exactly what you want them to be.
  2. Find a trademark attorney to help guide you through the process.
  3. Research if the trademark has already been filed or if it is already owned. If so, tweak yours to be original.
  4. File your trademark application and continue the review process with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office).

 icon-angle-right Do I need a lawyer?

Getting intellectual property protection can be simple, but it can also require the help of an attorney. While some protections apply solely upon the creation of a product, business, or idea, it’s still a great idea to hire an attorney to register your IP and provide you with added protection. Luckily, there are experts out there to help you through the process.

These lawyers can not only educate you on the process of filing a trademark or patent but they can also help you learn about infringement issues and other laws that may come up in the business world. They can also help you navigate potential issues that may arise with infringement, enforcing your IP rights, or possible cases that may take place against you.

So, in short, getting a lawyer is definitely a great idea when it comes to protecting your IP. Whether you’re a beginner or a copyright veteran, it’s always important to have that added level of protection in your favor.

What is the cost of protecting my IP?

When it comes to protecting your intellectual property through copyrights, patents, and trademarks, there may be varying costs. While the cost of registering your idea may vary from the type of protection you choose, there may also be added fees for hiring a lawyer as well.

When looking into protecting your intellectual property, it’s essential to keep in mind added costs that may add up throughout the process. Perhaps allotting a budget to dedicate to your IP’s protection could be a smart task before diving head-first into IP protection. Moreover, It’s wise to remember the importance of protection in the fast-paced business world for not only your Ip, but for you as well.

Why is it important to protect my intellectual property?

Taking the extra steps to protect your property is an essential part of starting a business. Not only does this protect your business, product, or service from copycats, but it can also benefit you in other ways:

 icon-angle-right Branding

While this may seem small to some people, protecting your property through a trademark does wonders for your professional branding and appearance. After you trademark a logo, it will be recognized with a small symbol. Not only does this make your company look professional, but it also shows consumers that you are a legitimate business that can be trusted.

 icon-angle-right Legal coverage

By trademarking your business, you have the powers of the legal system on your side. This way, you can ensure the protection of yourself and your product or service. Do your research and hire an attorney to ensure the process goes smoothly and professionally. In the end, this will not only help your business but help you as well!

In the end, these intellectual property protections exist to help creators like you make the most of their idea, product, business, or service. Whether it’s the next great American novel or a product that will sell out on shelves nationwide, protecting your intellectual property is the foundation of garnering the benefits of your creations. While the process may seem tedious, time-consuming, and confusing, protecting your intellectual property will be ultimately worth it in the long run.

For a summary of all things trademarks, feel free to read and download the infographic below and use this as a guide through the process of trademarking your brand.

Please include attribution to LegalZoom.com with this graphic.
A Guide to Trademarking Your Startup

About the Author!

Mike Floeck is a writer who creates engaging content about legal interests like intellectual property, business formation, and much more. The graphic in this article was created for and reviewed by LegalZoom to assist aspiring entrepreneurs and established businesses with understanding intellectual property protection.

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