Locking down intellectual property protections is essential for most companies’ long-term health, but many business owners fail to take action. Intellectual property, or IP, includes intangible assets, such as logos, branding and inventions.
IP is typically protected through copyrights and trademarks. These legal protections keep competitors and others from using your name, logo and other IP without your permission. But many business owners are unsure how trademarks and copyrights apply to their companies.
In general, copyrights protect artistic works and materials companies create. These include:
- Computer software
- Books and other original written materials
- Audio and video
Original works are protected as long as they are recorded in some form. On the other hand, works that cannot be copyrighted include discoveries, ideas, principles or others considered common property.
Trademarks safeguard words, symbols, designs or phrases used in branding. These items include:
- Company slogans
- Business names
- Brand names
Companies can also protect services they provide with a “service mark.” Trademarks include descriptive marks, suggestive marks, arbitrary marks and trade dress. An experienced attorney can explain the differences and whether these protections are relevant to your business.
How to protect your IP
Copyrights are automatically generated when works are created. However, you can take several steps to protect against infringement, such as marking property with a watermark or using the copyright (©) symbol. You can also register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyright durations vary but can last up to 120 years from the creation date.
After doing a trademark search to ensure that your branding elements are not already being used by someone else, you can register them with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Trademark protections never expire as long as they remain in use. Knowledgeable lawyers can help guide you through the process.