As a business owner, you will want to protect your inventions, innovations and processes as best as possible. Competitors and former employees may want to use your intellectual property (IP), and you will need to find ways to safeguard it. Yet, the ways to do so depend on the IP in question.
If you have produced a creative work you want to protect, you will want to register it with the United States Copyright Office. A copyright gives you exclusive rights to control the dissemination, distribution and use of your IP. Any copyright you file will last the duration of your lifetime, plus 70 years beyond it.
If you have invented a unique product or design, you can safeguard it by applying for a patent. Two types of patents exist. A utility patent protects a product’s workings and mechanisms, and a design patent shields its appearance. Filing a patent prevents competitors from producing, importing, using and selling your process or design. But patents are not indefinite: Design patents last for 15 years and utility patents for 20 years.
Since your business or brand’s name and branding are unique, you will want to trademark these to protect against copies and likenesses. You must make sure you register your trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. And you will have to renew them every 10 years for them to remain in effect.
Trade secrets are trickier to protect than copyrights, patents and trademarks. Unlike other forms of IP, you cannot register these under your ownership. Yet, you can safeguard trade secrets by classifying them as confidential. You also can make your employees sign nondisclosure and non-compete agreements. These contracts will prevent them from leaking your trade secrets and sharing them with your competitors.
When defending your venture’s IP, it’s crucial that your register every piece possible. If your work or innovations face infringement, documentation can protect you in case you need to file a lawsuit or injunction. An attorney who understands IP law can guide your business through the process.