Intellectual property is among the most valuable assets for many businesses today, especially for creative freelancers and startups. In this post, we’ll explore the four main types of intellectual property and what you should know about each:
When you create works such as art, music, writings, and computer code, you can use copyright law to prevent other people from copying your work without your permission. In most cases, you’ll own the copyright unless an exception applies.
Copyright law in a nutshell:
Learn more about copyrights in this guide.
When you are the first to use a name, slogan, logo, or other trademark in commerce to identify you as the source of a particular good or service, you can use trademark law to prevent others from using your trademark or any mark confusingly similar to your trademark if that use might cause consumer confusion. You should apply for a trademark registration with the United States Patent & Trademark Office to shore up your rights, but it technically isn’t required.
Trademark law in a nutshell:
Learn more about trademarks in this guide.
When running your business you’ll probably have information that is valuable to your business due to its confidential status. You can protect that information using Non-Disclosure Agreements but you can also use state-specific (and now federal) trade secret laws to prevent the unauthorized acquisition, use, and disclosure, of that information.
Trade Secrets law in a nutshell:
Learn more about trade secrets in this guide.
If you’ve invented a new and useful tool, machine, process, or something similar, you can seek a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If awarded, you can use that patent to prevent others from using or selling your invention.
Patent law in a nutshell:
Learn more about patents in this guide.
IP law is not intuitive and you can’t afford to make mistakes when it comes to protecting your IP and avoiding infringing the IP of others. Often, startups and other small businesses don’t learn they have an IP problem until it is too late and when that happens the consequences can be disastrous. For that reason, it’s usually best to speak to an intellectual property attorney as early as you can.
(This article is general in nature and is not legal advice.)
Understanding Copyrights, Trademarks, Patents, & Trade Secrets.
IP Cheat Sheet