Whether you are new to business or a seasoned entrepreneur, there is regular and ongoing creation of a great deal of intellectual property. For this reason, you should consider the steps required for protecting, managing, and legally enforcing ownership on a regular basis in order to get the best possible commercial results. The value of intellectual property is often underappreciated, and the potential for providing an opportunity for future profit is widely underestimated. However, when intellectual property is legally protected it can become a valuable business asset.
Unlike warehouses or inventory, intellectual property is very often an intangible asset that can range from brand names, designs and other output of a company’s creative and innovative capacity. Unique products and processes, artistic and literary works, computer software, creative designs, brand identifiers, and trade secrets are all examples of intellectual property.
Your brand’s identity is often tied to your ability to generate income, as it often engenders loyalty among customers and can indicate unique features that are desired by the market. A brand includes not only the name of a company, the logo, tagline, jingle or photograph that is specific to an enterprise, but can also include unique packaging and specified colors. A protected asset might generate income through licensing or resale of a product or process. Having these assets can increase the perceived value of a company that is seeking investors or considering a sale merger or acquisition.
Depending upon the type of the intellectual property that is owned, there are various ways to legally protect your company’s assets.
If your business has created a novel process, method or invention, then applying for a patent is critical for the protection of your ideas. In the patent process, the government examines your asset in order to ascertain that it is unique, non-obvious, and useful. If approved, the U.S. Patent Office will grant you a 20-year monopoly on selling, utilizing, and distributing in the United States. Due to the nature of the patent application, regardless of the outcome, any trade secrets in relation to the intellectual property will be made public. Since patent law can be quite complex, having an attorney construct and direct your case before and during submission is the best way to ensure the most favorable outcome.
Copyright law protects the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself. These laws specifically apply to written, graphic, audio, dramatic or architectural works. Placing a copyright symbol and date on any creative work puts the copyright in place, but this does not afford the level of protection that is achieved by a legally registered copyright. This document gives the copyright holder, and only that person or organization, the exclusive right to copy, modify, distribute, perform, display and sell the creation.
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies and distinguishes your company or product from all others. Some examples include brand names, slogans, and logos. Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks do not expire. Trademark rights come from actual use, and therefore, a trademark can last forever, as long as it’s continuously used in commerce to indicate the source of goods and services. A trademark registration can also last forever, so long as specific documents are filed and fees are paid on a regular basis.
Your company very likely has assets that you want to keep proprietary but for which patent, trademark and copyright protections do not apply. This could include a client list or a successful sales process that gives you an edge over your competition. Keeping these assets out of the public domain is difficult without government protection, but over the years legal documents have been developed to assist companies in keeping this valuable information safe. One such document is a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which is signed by an employee or contractor who becomes privy to private information. By signing the agreement, the individual agrees not to disclose that information outside the company. Enterprises also often require employees to sign a Non-Compete Agreement, which states that upon leaving a company, a former employee may not work for any competitor, or in the same industry, for a specified amount of time. While not registered with any government entity, these types of agreements are still binding under general contract law.
Just as you diligently protect your physical assets by insuring them against loss, you need to shield your intellectual property. A business attorney with experience in entrepreneurial concerns will help you safeguard these valuable assets. That’s why you need Company Counsel, LLC. To find out how Company Counsel, LLC can help you, call us at 484-325-5660 to set up a consultation. Learn more about us at www.companycounsel.law.