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Intellectual Property Protection Primer

John Worley - Monday, May 17, 2010

A lot of small businesses are founded on high technology or a breakthrough concept. If you’re a technopreneur, and the inventor of a property (software, technology, idea or process), have you looked at how to protect your ownership of the same? Don’t look puzzled – protection of your intellectual property (IP) rights is as important as creating the property itself.

Many entrepreneurs have got into a mess by not paying adequate attention to intellectual property rights. Let’s say for example, that Mr. Smith has invented a new engineering process while being employed with a company. The company may have patented the same and acknowledged Mr.Smith as the inventor. However, the patent belongs to the company and not to person who invented it. If Mr.Smith decides to start his own business, he has no right to use the same technology.

There may be other cases where a trademark or copyright infringement might occur inadvertently – for example with a brand name or logo that bears a strong similarity to another. Think twice before you model your business logo after the Big Blue, regardless of how much inspiration you’ve drawn from them.

Undoing an intellectual property rights violation fiasco may be expensive and fraught with difficulty. Therefore, it is best to take adequate precaution beforehand.

Start by taking a look at the ways in which intellectual property can be protected.

Patent

Patents protect ideas (or processes or products). It takes a long time to procure one and is an expensive business. However, this works to protect the owner of the patent from future claims of ownership of the same idea.

Patents are valid for a limited period, after which the idea becomes free for others to use. They are also awarded for a certain geographic area – and in today’s global environment, a really BIG idea may need to be protected worldwide.

Copyright

Acquiring a copyright is the way to protect written works such as books, software, or even music. However, a copyright only protects the intellectual property from being duplicated, as in the case of software products. On the other hand, a person can take “inspiration” from an idea belonging to someone else, tweak it a bit, and get away with it, scot free. Don’t we see that happening all the time?

Trademark

A trademark protects a property that is used to make a company or product marketable – for example a brand name or logo. In case of the use of generic sounding names, trademarks protect the visual rendition but not the name itself.

Other examples of intellectual property protection are

  • Prevention of the theft of trade secrets, although this can be quite difficult to achieve
  • Non disclosure agreements that prevent employees or vendors from divulging confidential or sensitive information to others

It must be noted that protection of intellectual property rights is a specialized legal science by itself, and you will need to engage the services of an IP lawyer to take care of your interests. Be sure not to overlook them.

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