Many businesses make use of Intellectual Property (IP) that defines their brand or operations. While IP is an intangible creation of the mind, it can be the basis of a business, and the foundation they build their reputation on. Thus, it should be properly protected.
These intangible assets are built up through years of experience and dedication. However, even though they don’t always physically exist, they can be stolen, sold, or held ransom.
The fact that they are not a physical product can make the matter of theft all the more complex. Without an asset or proof of actual theft, pursuing legal action can be difficult. However, if the proper precautions have been put in place, legal recourse is far more straightforward.
In the USA alone, it’s estimated that IP theft costs businesses $300 billion annually. So, the importance of safeguarding your company’s intangible assets cannot be overstated. Whether or not you’re aware of it, your business may have intellectual property that you need to protect.
Forms of intellectual property
- Confidential information: This is one of the most valuable assets of any business. It can be related to a wide range of information and subjects, and be saved, or stored, in any form deemed applicable. Contractually, all information passed within the business may be confidential, and most employees and stakeholders will know this.
- Copyright: This prevents unauthorized replication or duplication of company work, or anything produced, or created within the working environment. This can include anything from multimedia footage to important data and company publications. An expiration date can be applied to certain works and will need to be indicated in the relevant documentation.
- Database rights: Whoever owns the database, has the right to authorize the extraction of content. These rights are similar to copyright, in that, they also carry an expiration date – limited to 15 years.
- Designs: You can register a unique design that has an individual character. Nothing like it, or similar, may exist. The duration of a design registration can range from 5 to 25 years.
- Patent: This gives the creator, the right to prevent people from stealing their idea without permission. An invention qualifies as a patent when it involves an inventive step, is novel, and is capable of industrial application. A patent can either be short term and last 10 years, or be long term, and last 20 years.
- Trademark: A trademark acts as an identifier for a company, in terms of the goods that it produces. It usually lasts 10 years but can be renewed indefinitely, as long as the renewal fees are paid.
- Trade secrets: This refers to processes and procedures that provide a competitive edge to the business. Protection can be enforced as long as it is not a system used by other existing companies and falls within the description.
- Trade dress: This is related to packaging, and the physical aspects of products offered by a business. It can even relate to the design of a business or operational processes and procedures put in place.
To address the idea of IP more simply Brad Templeton once said,
“I think intellectual property is more like land, and copyright violation is more like the trespass. Even though you don’t take anything away from the landowner when you trespass, most people understand and respect the laws that make it illegal. The real crime in copyright violation is not the making of the copies, it’s the expropriation of the creator’s right to control the creation.”
In the same way that trespassing can encompass various extracurriculars, for example, vandalism, so can intellectual property violations. That’s why it’s crucial to identify the specific types. This will assist you in determining the correct course of action, should an infringement occur.
The relationship between business and intellectual property
Once you have obtained the relevant protection and documentation for your intellectual property, you become the official owner of the business and brand. You can include this information when drawing up your business plan, as it forms an integral part of your idea, and can be the core of your organization too.
Whatever you do reflects on the brand, and will create a lasting impression with customers. You need to control the narrative and ensure the image you portray is true to your brand. The smallest mistake can have huge ramifications, so be careful in the outside world.
In addition to this, your employees and other business representatives are liable for upholding your brand image. Plus, they’re responsible for ensuring the intellectual property remains safe from harm.
Employee contracts are the most effective way to ensure that everyone is aware of the company’s stance when it comes to IP, and what may happen, should an individual put it at risk.
Non-disclosure agreements can be put into place to prevent costly data breaches or infringements and can extend to after an employee has left the company too.
It’s always advisable to enlist the services of an attorney that specializes in intellectual property rights to take action against any violations when they occur. By doing so, you can immediately step in to protect the business’s reputation and limit the damages.
Identifying intellectual property is essential for innovation
“Intellectual-property rules are necessary to spur innovation – if every invention could be stolen, or every new drug immediately copied, few people would invest in innovation. But too much protection can strangle competition and can limit what economists call ‘incremental innovation’ – innovations that build, in some way, on others.” – James Surowiecki
This quote perfectly summarizes the importance of identifying and protecting IP. If everything’s the same or hinges on one singular concept, is it unique? What difference is the product offering, and how does this compare with the nearest competitors.
In a sense, intellectual property drives competitive advantage and allows businesses to thrive in an overly saturated market. It may seem like safeguarding IP is an immense effort, but it will pay off in the long run.
Nina Sharpe, Content Champion & Writer of Words