Intellectual property sales is one critical component of business that you need to fully understand. If you create any form of IP, you need to ensure that it is protected in the eyes of the law to prevent theft or unlawful use.

What is Intellectual Property (IP)?

IP is defined as the ownership of ideas. It is not a tangible item like office equipment. Rather, it is a collection of concepts and ideas.

There are only three ways you can protect your intellectual property in the United States- with patents, trademarks, and copyrights:

  1. Patent- this applies to a certain design of a product
  2. Trademark- it protects a name, phrase or symbol
  3. Copyright- it protects a written document

All these methods come with limitations. There is not one solid way to protect your idea.

Copyright Protection

Copyrights protect the following:

  • Works of literature
  • Works of music, including lyrics
  • Works of drama, including music
  • Choreographic works and pantomimes
  • Graphic, sculptural, and pictorial works
  • Motion pictures
  • Sound recordings
  • Works of architecture
  • Websites and computer programs

Copyright protection provides the holder the right to copy the work, change it, and distribute and display their work publicly. Concepts and ideas are not protected by copyright.

Copyrights can protect the expression of an idea but not the idea itself. For instance, if you are asked what a chair is, you get the mental image of a chair. That picture could look different to someone else. These are “ideas” of chairs. However, if you drew the chair from your mind or used words to describe it, it is an expression of the idea. That expression is protected by a copyright.

In general, the only protections for concepts and ideas are through trade secret laws and confidentiality agreements. This provides a contract and can be a remedy for any misuse of the idea.

Copyrights including musical, literary, or artistically composed works, are identified under the Internal Revenue Code for non-favorable treatment on sale by the creator. Books, movies, video games, or television shows are in this category of asset in the developer’s hands.

Patent Protection

A patent protects the process, method, and an invention that is novel, useful, and non-obvious. If a patent is granted, it provides a 20-year monopoly on using, making, selling, or importing an invention into the U.S.

Patent protections will require the detailed public disclosure of the work that precludes the maintenance of trade secret protection for the same work.

Patent Protection: Requirements

  • Your work has to be novel: It should not be known or used by other individuals in the United States. patented or described in any publications in print in the U.S. or in other countries, or publicly in use or for sale in the U.S. for more than a year before the patent application.
  • Your work has to be non-obvious: It should not be obvious to an individual that has ordinary skills in the art as it was when the invention was created.
  • Your work has to be useful: It must have significant and beneficial use as a machine, composition of matter, manufacture, or be an improvement of these.

Process, Machine, Manufacture, and Composition of Matter

“Process” is defined as a process, method, or act that pertains to technical and industrial processes. “Machine” is defined no differently. “Manufacture” is defined as articles that are made and includes manufactured articles.

“Composition of matter” is referencing chemical compositions and can include the combination of ingredients along with new chemical compounds.

These different classes of subject matter together include just about everything that is made by man as well as the processes used for making those products.

Trademarks Protection

Trademarks are like brand names. A trademark is any word or symbol that is representative of a product and identifies and distinguishes it from other products already on the market.

An example of a trademarked name would be “Rollerblades.” An example of a trademarked symbol would be the NBC peacock.

The ™ mark may be used next to your own mark. The registration symbol can only be used if the mark is registered with the PTO. It is against the law to use this symbol along with your mark if you have not been issued registration.

The main rule is the mark has to be distinctive. The more distinctive it is, the easier you can enforce your trademark. This is one common reason why you see so many unique spellings that are trademarked.

Trademark rights will last indefinitely as long as a company continues to use it. Once the mark is no longer used, the registration will be terminated. Initially, the term of federal trademark registration is 10 years with a 10-year renewal term.

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