Your brand’s intellectual property is its identity. It’s what separates it from the rest of the industry. Now, a young enterprise, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle from the very start. Your competitors have more resources, more contacts, and an already existent brand presence. So, what do you have? A chance to triumph due to new ideas and ingenuity. Imagine a scenario where every time you have a great idea, one of your competitors starts applying it right away. Due to their budget advantage, the chances are that they could outcompete you at your own game. Well, fortunately, there are more than a couple of ways for you to protect your intellectual property, and here are some of them.
Three types of intellectual property protection
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There are three major types of intellectual property protection based on the type of the intellectual property in question. These three are the trademark, copyright, and patent. First, you need to protect your basic brand markings with a trademark. Trademarks protect your logo, your design, or even your slogan. Make sure any enterprise phrases and symbols are legally protected so that no one else can infringe on it. One thing you need to understand here is the fact that you don’t have to register a trademark to protect it. It’s simply illegal for others to use your logo. However, many extra benefits come from going this extra length to invest in your IP protection.
Another thing you need to take into consideration is the concept of copyright. Copyright is the type of IP protection that’s meant to protect your original creative work from the use of others. This most often goes for various forms of content, which only you can legally distribute, display publically, reproduce or make derivative work of. Just remember that on some platforms, there’s such a thing as fair use. For instance, people doing reviews or analysis of your content may use excerpts with their commentary. However, this form of use A) promotes your brand, and B) doesn’t necessarily reflect negatively on your enterprise.
The final form of intellectual property infringement is the patent. A patent is there to protect your invention. However, to figure out how to properly use it, you must first figure out what is patentable. Three main categories are utility, design, and plant patents, and they each focus on a specific kind of invention. First, you have the utility patent, which protects a work process, a machine, or a composition of a matter. Design patent affects how the item in question looks. A plant patent is mostly found in the field of biology, even though it only applies to the discovery of an asexually reproduced plant.
For something to be patentable, it also has to fulfill a certain set of criteria. First of all, it has to be useful. Second, it has to be novel. Patentable means that it cannot be previously known, used, patented, described, or be in public use in the country where you want to patent it. The use of the word country is particularly important, seeing as how a lot of these IP laws only have natural jurisdiction. Of course, it’s also possible for you to apply for an international patent. Another crucial criterion that you have to fulfill is the fact that the concept in question has to be nonobvious.
One of the things many entrepreneurs and inventors discovered the hard way around is the fact that patenting their invention sometimes does more harm than it does good. What does this mean? Well, by patenting an invention, you’re required to describe the manufacturing process or a certain method to the last detail. This information means that it would, in theory, be relatively simple for one to alter your invention just enough to fly under the radar. In other words, you would deliver the recipe to your success in the arms of your competitors.
On a grander scale of things, some economists claim that the opposite effect of patents may harm humanity as a whole. You see, according to the economist David Levine – patents discourage innovation. Throughout history, inventors freely used the work of their predecessors to improve them or make something completely new and unique based on this work. Due to the restrictions caused by patent laws, such a degree of involuntary collaboration is no longer a possibility. Finally, take into consideration that you, as an enterprise, may not have the luxury of taking this altruistic approach and keeping all your inventions open source.
Hiring professional help
As you can see, so far, your IP protection is quite complex, which is why you may want to consider hiring professional help. First of all, the paperwork surrounding some of the above-listed methods may not be complex. There are some instances in which the IP protection is automatic (your brand name, logo, etc.). However, there are many benefits to taking extra steps to ensure the security of your IP and your rights to your inventions and creative work.
Moreover, having a moral right and even a legal right on paper may sound reassuring, however, what happens when your competitor does infringe on your IP? The IP protection mechanisms that are in the algorithm of various search engines can still be inaccurate, slow, and unreliable (at times). So, what happens when you decide to take matters into your own hands. Well, if you decide to take your competitors to court over the IP infringement, you will need some legal assistance on your side. Having veterans specializing in IP cases is one of the ways you can do so.
Their services include commencing legal proceedings, attempting mediation, scheduling conferences, and many other tasks that will provide you with a swift, satisfactory result. Most importantly, it allows you to stay in control as the scenario unfolds, instead of putting your fate in higher authority in terms of search engine’s IP team or algorithm. The discovery of evidence and legal costs are also things that you have to worry about. Nonetheless, with a specialized team on your side, this shouldn’t be nearly as terrifying.
Unauthorized copying, use, and reproduction/distribution of materials that you own are considered piracy. It’s one of the things that your IP is supposed to protect you from. Now, for starters, it’s important to understand why piracy is an IP infringement and not outright theft (even though it has so many similar elements). Imagine a scenario where you run a car dealership, and someone steals one of the vehicles that you have up for sale. First of all, you’re losing an asset (that you’ve already paid for). Second, you’re losing the potential to sell this asset for a profit. Well, with piracy, the thing is not stolen, in the sense that you no longer have it. Nonetheless, you still suffer from the loss of opportunity to sell it, seeing as how the person in question no longer has to buy that which they can have for free.
The video games industry is one of the fields that are the most affected by this phenomenon. The problem, nonetheless, lies in the fact that things are not always so black and white. You see, with so many AAA video games coming out every year (each of which costs about $60), gamers want to sample the game before they buy it. Some games that have heavily invested in piracy protection methods (like DRM) tend to decrease their sales. On the other hand, games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt performed admirably even without the use of such a method. In other words, while piracy is bad, it might not be so bad for your business, after all.
One of the biggest problems of intellectual property in a digital era is the concept of cybersquatting. You see, your URL is often your brand name. When referring to a major conglomerate that is Amazon, we often use the term Amazon.com. The list of such examples goes on and on. Cyber-squatters abuse the idea of changing a single letter or slightly altering a phrase (if the URL is not a single word) to get a domain that is so similar that it attracts some of the original brand’s audience by accident. The damage to the original brand can be quite severe, seeing as how the cyber-squatter in question may be in all sorts of fraudulent activities and have numerous fraudulent intentions.
The bigger the company, the bigger the target. One of the best examples of just how exhausting this can be is in the example of LEGO. Determining who has the ownership of the domain name is not a complex manner. However, a lot of infringing domains still get away with it. This is why a forward-thinking entrepreneur leaves a tad more room in their budget in order to buy domain names containing spelling errors, as well as those with a different extension such as brand.com, brand.org, or brand.au. This doesn’t mean that you have to make several different websites, you can, instead, just have all these URLs redirected back to your main website.
Two sides of a coin
Keep in mind that while you’re trying to keep your own intellectual property safe from others, you might end up on the other side of the line, as well. Infringing on the IP of others is a common occurrence, and it doesn’t always happen with a bad intention. You might be unaware of the fact that a similar (or the same) name and logo is in use within the same legal jurisdiction, which could land you in a whole world of trouble. The same goes for patents and copyright, as well. In this scenario, nonetheless, the best course of action is to do your research beforehand. Simple use of the search engine might not suffice, and you might have to look up a more specialized tool instead.
Previously, we’ve discussed the fact that these trademarks usually have jurisdiction. This is the very reason why Burger King had to go under a franchise name of Hungry Jack’s in Australia. It is also why the fast-food chain Wendy’s was prohibited from working under the same name in the European Union. In other words, just because something is already in use, somewhere, this doesn’t mean that you (or someone else) don’t have the legal right to use it at your current location.
The very last thing worth mentioning here is the fact that not everyone will be against you using their work for your own purposes. Sometimes, the author of creative work (especially photography or music) will see the use of their work as a sort of exposure. Nonetheless, you need to ask them to do so, and you have to give them credit. This involves using the author and copyright information, writing the title of work (so that people can find it on their own, later on). Use the word copyright or use a copyright symbol (a circled letter “c”) and write down the year in which the work was copyrighted.
As you can see, the scenario may be more complex than you’ve originally thought it would be, yet, a lot of these mechanisms are something that you have to worry about from time to time (as opposed to all the time). Moreover, some of these legal mechanisms are automatic (especially if you’re connected with the right legal team), which means that it doesn’t require too much active effort (or even attention) on your part. Keep in mind, nonetheless, that this is a vital issue for the survival of your brand, as such, something that you have to get familiar with as soon as possible.