Understanding the Different Types of Intellectual Property
In the 21st-century business world, a company’s intellectual property can often be more valuable than real property, equipment and other assets. One of the keys to maximizing your likelihood of success with a new commercial venture is putting measures in place to minimize the risk of infringement or take appropriate action when you discover unauthorized use.
There are five primary types of intellectual property that you need to address:
- Patents—A patent gives you the exclusive right, for a period of 20 years from the date of the filing of your application, to make, use, sell or incorporate an invention. Under current law, there are three types of patents: utility patents, design patents and plant patents.
- Trademarks—Trademarks are symbols, designs, words or phrases that help distinguish your goods or services from competitors in the market. You may obtain a trademark on goods or services (trademarks on services are known as "service marks). A federal trademark registration lasts for 10 years from the date of filing and may be renewed for additional 10 year periods. You must, however, actively use the trademark to protect it.
- Copyrights—A copyright protects the expression of an idea (not the idea itself). Copyrights are available for original works of expression and include literary, dramatic, musical and other artistic materials. A copyright allows the holder to control and protect the use or reproduction of protected works. The current term of a federal copyright is life of the author plus 70 years, although works for hire have a different period of protection—95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever comes first.
- Trade secrets—Trade secrets can include any confidential information relevant to your business, including formulas, customer lists and methods of manufacture or doing business. A trade secret is customarily protected and enforced by a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement. The terms of such an agreement can vary.
- Trade dress—Trade dress refers to the physical appearance of your product and/or packaging, and protects from competitors who seek to copy that appearance in an effort to confuse the purchaser as to the source of the goods. Trade dress is protected under a federal statute known as the Lanham Act. You can register your trade dress with the Patent and Trademark Office, but it’s not a necessary prerequisite to legal action.
In any startup, there will likely be different types of intellectual property that afford value to your company and need to be protected. You’ll want to consult with an experienced lawyer to learn your options.
Contact MCIS Law
At MCIS Law, PLLC, in Stafford, we provide comprehensive counsel to startup and existing businesses in southeast Texas, including advice on intellectual property protection. For a confidential consultation with an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer, email us or call our office at (346) 297-0121. We accept all major credit cards.