Intellectual Property Portfolio 9:12, December 21, 2016

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Intellectual Property Portfolio

Understanding Your Intellectual Property Portfolio

If you are like most people – many experienced business owners and creative professionals included – you have never been formally introduced to the world of intellectual property. You know it is out there, and you may have a general idea that you or your company owns some IP assets. But, patents, trademarks, copyrights, proprietary information – is there really any difference? If so, does it matter? If it does, who cares?

Of course, we are being a bit facetious; but, if this commentary rings true, you are not alone. That said, as a business owner, inventor, or creative entrepreneur, it is important to take the time to learn at least some basic information about your intellectual property portfolio. In this article, we provide a brief introduction to the different types of intellectual property.

The Different Types of Intellectual Property

In the United States, there are four main types of intellectual property: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and proprietary information. There are other subcategories of intellectual property as well, such as service marks, trade dress, and trade secrets, but these generally fall under one of the larger umbrellas – in these examples trademarks and proprietary information.

1. Patents

Patent law protects inventions. In order to be eligible for patent protection, an invention must satisfy the three basic requirements of:

  • Usefulness
  • Non-obviousness
  • Novelty

These are extraordinarily broad terms that have near-endless qualifications and implications, but at a high level what is important to understand is that only one party can hold a patent to any particular invention. If someone else holds a patent for something you thought you invented, you cannot obtain a patent of your own even if you had no idea that the existing patent was out there. This stands in stark contrast to the law of copyright, where multiple authors can conceivably create identical works and each own protectable rights.

2. Trademarks

Trademarks are identifiers in the marketplace. When you think of a famous brand – Apple, Sony, or the Chicago Bears – you are conjuring the image of a trademark. Trademark law serves two primary purposes: (i) avoiding consumer confusion, and (ii) allowing brand owners to establish goodwill. As a result, the law prevents unrelated companies from using “confusingly similar” trademarks on competing or related products or services. Registration affords national exclusivity, while geographically-limited rights can arise upon use of a mark in commerce (assuming another company is not already first in right).

3. Copyrights

The law of copyright protects creative expressions of ideas fixed in tangible media. Contrary to popular belief, copyright law does not protect ideas themselves. Common examples of copyrightable works include things like:

  • Song lyrics
  • Sound and video recordings
  • Graphic designs
  • Works of fine art
  • Photographs
  • Literary works

While copyrights – like patent and trademark rights – are exclusive, originality is not a requirement for protection. As a result, unlike patent and trademark cases, in a copyright infringement case ignorance can be a defense to liability.

Copyrights are also unique in that it is possible for multiple authors or owners to own different copyrights in the same protected work. Using the example of a song, one author could own rights to the lyrics, another could own the rights to the musical composition, and a third author could own the rights to the recording. As a result, licenses and assignments often play a major role in copyright matters (patents and trademarks can be licensed and assigned as well).

4. Proprietary Information

The fourth major category of intellectual property assets is proprietary information. Unlike the other forms of intellectual property, there is no registration system for proprietary information, and companies must protect their proprietary information through contractual restrictions and other means. Common examples of proprietary information include things like:

  • Customer lists
  • Marketing strategies
  • Research and development
  • Recipes and formulas
  • Other forms of intellectual capital

If a former employee or third party is using your company’s proprietary information without authorization, acting quickly can be critical to protecting your proprietary rights. This holds true with the other types of intellectual property as well.

Faier & Faier P.C. | Intellectual Property Attorneys in Chicago, IL

Faier & Faier P.C. is a full-service intellectual property law firm that serves clients nationwide. If you would like to learn more about protecting your company’s IP assets, we invite you to contact us for an initial consultation. To speak with an attorney, call us at (312) 382-9500 or send us a message online today.

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