Intellectual property (IP) is a term that includes property that essentially comes from the mind, including trademarks, copyrights, patents, and, to a lesser extent, trade secrets. It is vital to understand the difference between the types of IP in order to determine what you and your business needs. Simply put, you copyright your expression of ideas, you trademark your brand-name/logo, and you patent your inventions.
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A patent must be filed to obtain any sort of protection, while certain rights are granted to copyright and trademark holders without filing. Trademark users and copyright holders should always file for protection for a number of reasons, such as, increased damage recovery, cement your date of use and ownership, and create a record of your use so others are aware.
Trade secrets are IP, but they are different in that there is no filing with the government to protect your rights. You protect trade secrets by implementing processes to keep the information secret and confidential, and if you do so properly, you can recover for certain damages when someone illegally obtains your trade secrets, i.e. through corporate espionage or breach of non-disclosure agreement. However, other people can legally reverse engineer your invention and legally make and sell it so long as they obtained the ability to do such legally. This differs from patents in that patents do not allow others to reverse engineer your product, but patents have a set life term, usually 20 years, while trade secrets can remain in effect indefinitely so long as you continue to take the necessary precautions to keep your trade secrets safe.
Many companies implement multiple types of IP in their business. Harnessing the power of IP can increase a company’s bottom line greatly, and IP should be considered and analyzed very early on in the startup and growth phases of any company.
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