We attend a lot of conferences and other events, and it is not uncommon to hear someone tell us, “Your job seems exciting, but we just don’t have any IP.” So, let’s step back. What is Intellectual Property (“IP”)? Isn’t it just Patents? No! There is so much more, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade dress, trade secrets, and even some data rights. How would the different types be recognized?
Patents include inventions (new and useful processes, machines, manufactures, compositions of matter, or improvements), designs, and new plant varieties. Patents may be the result of traditional R&D or can come out of someone recognizing an improvement or change in an industry that has not been previously known. Patents prevent others from making, using, selling, offering to sell, and importing an invention (or design or plant variety) for a limited period of time.
If you or your company has a name, logo, and/or tag line, you may have a trademark. Trademarks are a form of consumer protection to identify a source of a product, service, or brand. Trademarks signify the goodwill of a business or product, in that the greater the recognition of a name or logo in conjunction with the product or service, the greater the goodwill of the same. Registering your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office can assist you in preventing others from naming or otherwise identifying their product or service in a way that would confuse consumers with your business/product.
Trade dress is similar in that it covers a distinctive visual and aesthetic appearance of a product (e.g. the shape of Nutter Butter cookies) or its packaging (the design of the Coca-Cola bottle) (or even the design of a building) that signify the source of the product to consumers.
Copyrights protect creative content. Think music, photography, art, literature, or any other creative work. For many organizations, flyers, brochures, magazines, websites, catalogues, advertisements, computer code, or anything else that is creative and used can potentially be protected under copyright law. This can even include works that you are hired to create, such as in engineering, modeling, and the like. Like other IP, the protection is usually for a limited time, but is exclusive.
Finally, we all have secret sauces that help give us a competitive edge. Processes, formulas, or even compilations of data (e.g., customer lists, data analytics, etc.) that are kept secret from competitors or the general public and which provide an economic benefit can be protected as trade secrets. Establishing ways to ensure that these remain secret can be vital to the success of a business.
In addition, all of these types of intellectual property can be monetized in licenses, contracts, or other agreements, and it is important to know what you have and how to use your intellectual property assets to grow your business through such agreements.