Intellectual property rights protect any basic construction of human intelligence – from an invention to a brand name or artistic work. These exclusive rights are granted for a limited time only and vary between countries.
They help businesses generate income through licensing and sales or raise the value of a business in case of sale, merger or acquisition. They are essential for fostering innovation and economic growth.
Trademarks are words, symbols, designs, or other distinctive elements that identify a company’s goods and distinguish them from those of others. They are typically registered with the applicable authority and may be used for both goods and services. Some jurisdictions also have laws that prohibit unfair competition or dilution of trademarks.
While copyrights and patents offer a limited, one-off period of protection for distinct creations, trademarks are continuously renewed as long as the mark is actively used in the marketplace. However, in order to maintain a trademark, it is necessary to have specific and iconic marks that can help consumers differentiate your products from the rest.
As the owner of a trademark, you may choose to enforce your rights by sending cease and desist letters or filing suit against any individual or company that uses your mark in a way that may confuse customers. Moreover, you can take advantage of intellectual property laws that allow owners to “claim” the trademark in a particular domain or market as long as you can demonstrate that you have been using the mark in that particular area or market for a significant amount of time.
A common misconception is that once a trademark becomes generic—meaning it is so widely used by consumers that it no longer serves its primary function of identifying the product or service as belonging to the brand—it loses its legal protections. However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule.
Patents are legal rights to an invention of a technical product or process. They give the owner a limited time monopoly to exploit the invention and require the inventor to disclose the details of their creation. Government divisions, such as the US Patent and Trademark Office, handle and approve patent applications.
Patent rights are granted to individuals or corporations with the intention of encouraging the spread of new technologies and the benefits they bring to society. In general, it is illegal for anyone without the owner’s permission to make, use, import or sell a patented invention. However, the holder can choose to license the patent to others on agreed terms.
Generally, patents cover technological inventions such as machines, processes and chemical compositions. However, they can also protect more abstract concepts such as ideas or plans for future projects. Patents are internationally recognised, and patent law is widely harmonised. Patents are enforceable in the courts and may be enforced by requesting that anyone who infringes the patent pays damages.
University employees who create an invention that is capable of being patented should be aware that, subject to certain exceptions (see IP Policy), intellectual property rights in that invention vest in the University immediately and cannot be assigned or transferred. This is the case even if the work was carried out while the employee was in their own employment and regardless of who funded the research.
Copyrights protect original literary and artistic works, including music, paintings, movies and books. The right holder may prevent others from using the work without permission, including making copies, publishing it, performing it in public and displaying it publicly. They may also require that a fee, or royalty, be paid for each use. These rights are protected by international agreements and treaties.
Copyright protection lasts for a specified length of time, usually the life of the author plus 70 years. The term may be shorter or longer in some countries. The holder of the copyright can share some or all of his rights with others, and the work can be transferred between parties. This allows the creator to receive payment for his creation and allow other people to benefit from his investment.
When a work is copyrighted, it is considered private property. This means the owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, publish and display it. The holder of the copyright can charge for this use, and it may be renewed periodically.
Some creative works are not protected by copyright, such as ideas, names and slogans. Other intellectual property protections, such as patents and trademarks, are available for these. However, if a small business owner develops a product or service that is new and original, he should consider applying for a copyright.
Expert tip – Trade secret protection protects the owner of confidential information against the unauthorized acquisition, disclosure or use of the information in a manner contrary to honest commercial practices. This type of IP protection, however, may not prevent the information from being developed through independent means or as a result of leakage. Proving that another party misappropriated your trade secret is a complex process, and the scope of what is protected will vary widely by country.
As a general rule, only those employees with a need to know the trade secret may have access to it. It is important to have confidentiality agreements in place with outsiders who need to access the information. Similarly, the trade secret aspects of your product or service should not be revealed in demonstrations at trade shows or other events unless the person or company receiving the information has signed a confidential disclosure agreement.
In most jurisdictions, a breach of confidentiality is punishable with civil and criminal penalties similar to those for other forms of intellectual property. A qualified business attorney can help you determine what type of IP rights your business has, how to safeguard them and how to take legal action if necessary. Intellectual property laws are intended to provide inventors, authors and creators with incentive to develop their creations and to share them with society. While intellectual property law cannot prevent someone from using your ideas or work, the laws do allow you to enforce a legal limit on the actions of others in order to protect your investment and the integrity of your reputation.