Patenting intellectual property is a logical step when you've created a novel invention. Intellectual property (IP) refers to ownable ideas which are protected under the law. IP laws encourage innovation by giving inventors time to profit from their ideas and recover from development expenses.

Intellectual Property Protections

Theoretically, intellectual property is protected the moment you create it, assuming nobody else has previously created the work. Making your ownership claim in court, however, is difficult without an official record. That's why registering your IP is an important means of avoiding conflict and losing your rights.

There are three basic forms of IP protection:

  • Copyrights
    • A copyright protects a specific work such as a poem, book, article, musical composition, cartoon, or artwork.
    • Anything you write, compose, photograph, or even discuss on internet forums is automatically protected under U.S. copyright law unless it is placed specifically in the public domain or you sign a licensing agreement.
  • Trademarks
    • Trademarks protect company brands, including specific products and a company's name.
    • Trademark protections exist only within one business field, so you could use a trademarked name for your company as long as it isn't related to the original trademark.
  • Patents
    • A patent protects a novel, non-obvious invention such as electronics, manufactured goods, machines, software, business processes, and other products.

IP laws vary by country, but the basic principles of intellectual property protections are recognized around the globe. In fact, having a trademark, patent, or copyright in one country offers you legal protections in other countries that are members of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

While you do not have to have intellectual property to operate a successful business, you should take steps to protect your IP to maintain an advantage over the competition.

What Is a Patent?

As discussed, a patent is an exclusive right granted to an inventor for an invention. The patent owner may license the invention on certain terms, which gives outside parties the ability to utilize the product.

For instance, a patent owner may sell rights to the invention, effectively transferring ownership. Only the patent owner can decide how to proceed with the patent. As long as they own the patent, the invention cannot be produced, distributed, imported, or sold by anyone else without the owner's permission.

Once a patent expires, so does it protections. The invention then enters the public domain, and anyone can commercially exploit the product.

Patents are granted for inventions in all technological areas ranging from kitchen spatulas to computer processing chips. Inventions are typically products, but they can also be processes or chemical compounds. Some products even consist of multiple inventions.

When you obtain patent protection for an invention, the protection continues for a limited time. Usually, patent protection lasts 20 years from the original filing date. Since patents are territorial rights, exclusive rights only exist in the country of origin, which means the country in which the patent was filed.

One of the major advantages of obtaining a patent is having the ability to enforce its protections in court. Patent rights always favor the patent owner, and most court systems have the authority to stop infringements. However, patents do not protect themselves. As an owner, you are responsible for monitoring, identifying, and taking legal action against patent infringers.

There are two main types of patents:

  • Utility patents
  • Design patents

In some cases, you may apply for both patents for the same invention.

To apply for a patent, make sure your idea is patentable. Many people have great ideas, but they rarely follow through with them to form those ideas into patent-appropriate packages. Remember, you can patent an invention, not a concept, so you need more than just an idea.

Inventing a new product or process requires an initial concept and a physical formation of the idea. Once you have a tangible invention that's designed to work for its intended purpose, you can apply for a patent.

Businesses should also consider patenting inventions created in-house. Companies that patent intellectual property enjoy:

  • Exclusive rights
  • Return on investments
  • Licensing or selling opportunities
  • Increased negotiation power
  • A more positive image in the minds of investors and shareholders

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