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Intellectual Property: What It Is and How to Protect It

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In its most basic form, intellectual property is an idea. It’s creativity and innovation. While you won’t be able to protect all your ideas from infringement by others, it may be possible for you to protect certain types of intellectual property for a period through the use of copyrights, patents and trademarks.

Protecting intellectual property with a copyright

Obtaining a copyright is a protection reserved for more tangible pieces of creative work. While you may most often see a copyright on the inside of a book, its protection can extend to the following types of intellectual property:

  • Computer software
  • Movies
  • Novels
  • Poetry
  • Songs

In essence, a copyright is available for artistic, dramatic, literary or musical works.

That said, it is not the individual facts or the ideas expressed within the work that a copyright protects. Instead, it is the specific way things are expressed within the work. For instance, it protects book authors from having their works reprinted by other authors, but it does not protect them against new literary works by authors using similar types of characters or plot devices.

The length of copyright protection typically extends 70 years beyond the death of the creator.

Protecting Intellectual Property with a Patent

When it comes to patents, there are two types an inventor usually tries to obtain. The first is a utility patent that covers the functionality of the invention and keeps others from copying its schematics. The second is a design patent that keeps someone else from copying the unique look of your product.

In order to obtain a patent on a new invention, it must meet five criteria:

  • Enablement
  • Non-obvious
  • Novelty
  • Patentable subject matter
  • Utility

Basically, your invention must solve a valid problem, be different from anything else currently available on the market and must not be so obvious that others widely already use it in order to obtain a patent.

Protecting Intellectual Property with a Trademark

A trademark is something businesses obtain when a particular symbol is synonymous with their company or a product. This can be anything from the men dressed in fruit costumes to represent Fruit of the Loom to the apple with a bite missing that represents Apple. Trademarks are typically issued on a territorial basis and the length of trademark protection is determined by which of four categories it falls into. These are:

  • Arbitrary or fanciful
  • Descriptive
  • Generic
  • Suggestive

If you plan to take your company global, you must apply for international protection after obtaining trademark protection in the US.

Since intellectual property is handled by a government agency, the process is known to be lengthy and paperwork intensive. When you don’t want your application to get kicked to the back of the line or outright denied because of an oversight in your paperwork, an intellectual property attorney can help you through the process, including the extensive research necessary prior to filing your application.

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