It’s impossible to do business these days without using the Internet. It’s where we meet clients, send purchase orders, research market trends, and even store our data. Many times we don’t think about security breaches or copyright infringement unless it comes up in the news. After all, the chances of having a company who owns the rights to a logo or design that you may have used find your website among the 3.19 billion other websites is like finding a needle in all of the haystacks that ever existed. They may not see your website, but what if they do? It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
There are many different types of licenses out there, but here are the most common that apply to cyber law are:
Open Licensing – An open license grants permission to the user to access, re-use, and redistribute a work (whether it is sound, text, image, or multimedia) with few or no restrictions. This is for items that the originator wants to get circulated around (like a white paper acknowledging the company’s name), an article with multiple authors who don’t want to be contacted each time their work is cited, or if the author wants the piece to be added to and improved upon by others. This could be relevant to your business if you are quoting an article that has open licensing rights or if you create a project that you want to have a greater audience for without the limitations of copyright.
Copyright -vs- Trademark – A copyright is for “original works of authorship” and for our purposes, it’s basically any unique text that you write regardless if it is on your webpage, in a brochure, or part of a software program. The minute you write that sentence or complete that code, it is your property and you don’t need to do another thing to protect it. However, if someone has claimed your work as theirs and you plan to file a lawsuit for infringement of a United States copyright, you will first have to register your work.
A trademark is a word, name, or symbol that is used to indicate the brand of the product and to set it apart from other companies. Registration of a trade name with the Secretary of State does not however mean that the name is not infringing on the trademark of another company. A trademark clearance search should be conducted with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to ensure that your company name is uniquely your own. Registering for a trademark can also protect your domain name against cyber squatters who may want to hijack your customers to their site.
Patents – A Patent is for an invention and does not grant the right to make, use, sell, or import a new product, but it grants the right to exclude others from doing so. There are also three types of patents: a design patent applies to the inventor’s concept (like a unique font or icon), while a utility patent pertains to the construction of the machine or the machine’s processing or manufacturing techniques (like the shape or function of a new mouse), and a plant patent may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant. The plant cannot be found in an uncultivated state.
While these laws were created long before the Internet was commonplace, they still apply to protect intellectual property online. From web stores and database management software to company blogs and innovative apps, it is important to know the parameters of the law (or to find a good lawyer who does). Knowing how to protect your property online may be the best investment you make in the cyber law space.