Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Intellectual Property

You have a great idea. You want to bring it to market. How do you protect your intellectual property from imitation, copying and outright theft? In the US, and other countries, ideas such as trademark, patent and copywrite are used to protect intellectual property.

Patent

"A grant made by a government that confers upon the creator of an invention the sole right to make, use, and sell that invention for a set period of time."

Patents are best known in the pharmaceutical industry. They invent a drug and get exclusive right to that invention for X number of years. Same thing with Intel and their chips. What many don't realize is under patent law is something called Trade Dress that protects others from copying the visual appearance or use of your product. This is one thing I am exploring right now.

Trademark

"A distinctive characteristic by which a person or thing comes to be known"

Trademarks include Logos, product names and sayings that are used to identify your product or company. Best known trademarks would include Coca Cola, Disney, Intel and Nike. Anyone can apply for a trademark, but understanding the strength of that trademark is difficult. Trademarks can be looked at in four different ways:

Descriptive

Describes the goods or service offered, such as Computerland for computers, or Park and Fly for airport parking. These tend to be the most difficult to trademark.

Suggestive

Indirectly refers to quality or use of a product. Examples might be, 7-11, for stores open from 7 AM to 11 PM, or mustang for a fast car.

Arbitrary

Similar to fanciful, arbitrary trademarks include names that have nothing to with the product. Arbitraty might be Apple, for computers and MP3 players, or Sun for servers. These along with Fanciful tend to be the strongest.

Fanciful

Fanciful trademarks are the easiest to register, and describe a term that has been coined and
had no meaning before the trademark. Examples would include Verizon, Starbucks or Yahoo!.


Primary versus Secondary

Your trademark might not be distictive enough for a primary trademark registration. That doesn't mean you can try and get a listing on a secondary trademark registration. While not as strong as primary, over time, that secondary trademark can move up into the primary zone.

The best example of a secondary trademark is the shape of coke bottles. Coke bottles have a distictive shape and if you look at Pepsi or Dr, Pepper, their bottle shapes are quite distinct. This is where a competent trademark attorney can help you.

Copyright

Copyright gives the author exclusive right to their published work for a set period of time. As of right now, life plus 50 years I believe. Copyright law states unless you specifically exclude it, all your work is copyrighted. But to enforce it, it has to be registered with the copyright office.

Most people think of music and movies being protected by copyright, but in reality, the content of this blog, or the content of your web page.

Disclaimer

I am not a lawyer and if you have any questions about protecting your intellectual property, you really should consult a competant IP attorney. A lot of companies are out there to help you file applications and do IP searches. You are better off doing your filings early, versus having to deal with the legal fees associated with infringing on someones intellectual property, even if accidental.


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