Protecting your intellectual property: Patents, copyrights, trademarks, and more

By Gene Galin

Pittsboro, NC – In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive business landscape, protecting your intellectual property has become more crucial than ever. Intellectual property refers to intangible assets that are the result of human creativity and innovation. It includes inventions, artistic works, brand names, logos, and trade secrets. Safeguarding these assets ensures that individuals and businesses can reap the benefits of their hard work, maintain a competitive edge, and prevent unauthorized use or infringement by others.

The world of intellectual property rights and laws can be a confusing area. On June 8, Innovate Chatham sponsored a public presentation at 79°West featuring Kevin E. Flynn of Flynn IP Law. Kevin is a patent attorney in Chatham and specializes in this area. During the presentation Kevin explained the critical differences between the types of patents, and when to use patents vs trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, etc. Towards the end of his presentation he answered an assortment of questions from the audience about intellectual property protection.

You can watch and listen to Kevin’s entire intellectual property presentation on the YouTube video embedded below.

Why is protecting your intellectual property important? Without proper protection, anyone can copy or replicate your creations, potentially leading to financial loss and a diminished market position. Imagine spending years developing a groundbreaking product, only to have others capitalize on your efforts without permission. By securing intellectual property rights, you gain legal protection and exclusive ownership, enabling you to maintain control over your creations and commercialize them effectively.

Types of Intellectual Property Protection

  1. Patents: A patent is a legal protection granted to an inventor for a new invention that provides a solution to a specific problem. It gives the inventor exclusive rights to make, use, and sell the invention for a limited period, typically 20 years from the date of filing the patent application. Patents are essential for inventors who want to commercialize their inventions and prevent others from profiting from their ideas.
  2. Copyrights: Copyright protects original works of authorship, such as literary, artistic, musical, or dramatic creations. It grants the creator exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or modify their work. Copyright protection is automatic and arises as soon as the work is created, but registering your copyright with the relevant copyright office provides additional benefits, such as the ability to sue for copyright infringement.
  3. Trademarks: A trademark is a distinctive sign, symbol, or logo that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services. It can be a word, phrase, design, or a combination thereof. Registering a trademark with the appropriate government agency provides legal protection and prevents others from using a similar mark in a way that may cause confusion among consumers.
  4. Trade Secrets: Trade secrets refer to confidential and proprietary business information that gives a company a competitive advantage. Unlike patents, trademarks, or copyrights, trade secrets are not publicly disclosed. Instead, they are protected through non-disclosure agreements, employment contracts, and other legal measures. Examples of trade secrets include manufacturing processes, formulas, customer lists, and marketing strategies.
  5. Industrial Design Rights: Industrial design rights protect the visual appearance or aesthetics of a product. It covers the unique shape, configuration, or ornamentation of an item that appeals to the eye. Industrial design rights are often sought for consumer products, such as furniture, electronics, or fashion accessories.
  6. Geographical Indications: Geographical indications identify products that originate from a specific geographical location and possess qualities, characteristics, or reputation associated with that location. Examples include Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Darjeeling tea. Geographical indications protect the integrity and quality of products, ensuring that consumers receive genuine goods from the designated origin.

Benefits of Intellectual Property Protection

Effective intellectual property protection offers numerous advantages to individuals and businesses:

  1. Market Exclusivity: Intellectual property protection allows you to differentiate your products or services from competitors, giving you a distinct market advantage. It enables you to establish a unique selling proposition and build brand recognition.
  2. Increased Market Value: Having protected intellectual property enhances the value of your business. Investors and potential partners are more likely to be attracted to companies with valuable intellectual assets that are properly protected.
  3. Revenue Generation: Intellectual property rights enable you to monetize your creations by licensing or selling them. Licensing agreements can generate significant revenue streams, as others pay for the right to use your intellectual property.
  4. Competitive Edge: By securing your intellectual property, you gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. You can prevent competitors from imitating your products or services and protect your market share.
  5. Legal Recourse: Intellectual property protection provides a legal framework for taking action against those who infringe upon your rights. If someone violates your intellectual property, you have the ability to seek damages, injunctions, or other remedies in court.

Protecting your intellectual property is vital in today’s knowledge-based economy. Patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets provide the necessary legal tools to safeguard your creations, preserve your competitive advantage, and capitalize on your innovative ideas.

You can watch or listen to the presentation by IP attorney Kevin E. Flynn discussing the importance of protecting intellectual property on YouTube at Protecting Your Intellectual Property: Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, etc – 6.8.23

00:04 Protecting intellectual property is crucial for businesses

  • Without protection, competitors can easily copy and erode profits
  • Identifying and protecting competitive edges through patents, trademarks, and copyrights is key

08:15 Patents, trade secrets, and trademarks are important for protecting intellectual property.

  • Utility patents protect inventions for about 17 years.
  • Trade secrets are useful for murky chemical mixtures and intermediate steps in manufacturing, but useless if easily reverse engineered.
  • Trademarks allow people to find and buy more of your stuff, and can be registered at the state or federal level.

15:46 Trademark and copyright laws are important for protecting intellectual property.

  • Trademarking is important for unique and self-documenting names, and policing the trademark is necessary.
  • Copyright covers the specific way an idea is expressed, and fair use is a complex topic that often requires litigation.

23:35 Get a design patent for ornamental aspects of a product

  • Design patents are relatively cheap and easier to get than utility patents
  • Design patents provide great remedy discouragement and protect against knockoffs

30:42 Understanding patents and their impact on interoperability

  • Patents can be embedded in standards, creating tension between exclusivity and interoperability
  • Patents require an idea that is novel and non-obvious to a hypothetical person with access to all recorded history

38:47 Understanding patent claims and their value

  • Patent claims can be broad or specific, and their value is inversely proportional to their length.
  • Freedom to operate searching is important to ensure that a patent can be used without infringing on others’ patents.

46:48 Understanding patent law and game theory

  • Patents should teach how to make and use inventions
  • Companies own inventions made by employees within a reasonable scope

54:28 Understanding ownership and copyright is crucial for website development.

  • Work for hire is a copyright issue that needs to be carefully considered.
  • Badly written agreements can cause problems later on, so it’s important to have precise contracts.

1:02:09 Patent attorneys give names to new inventions and make incremental improvements.

  • Patent licenses can have different scopes and rules.
  • International patent treaties and agreements facilitate patent protection in other countries.

1:09:52 Intellectual property rights include copyrights, trademarks, and patents.

  • Copyrights can be amended and last a long time.
  • Trademarks are useful for branding and domain name disputes.
  • Patents have different types and durations, including design patents.
  • Method patents can be obtained for surgical procedures.

1:17:22 Patent application costs can vary greatly depending on the complexity and examiner’s response.

  • Patent attorneys have to spend hours reading and analyzing information to defend the patent application.
  • Patent attorneys have to explain the invention in a way that non-specialists can understand.

1:24:29 Designing multiple ways to generate fire without matches

  • Creating multiple bodies to make it harder to design around and increase chances of getting a big umbrella claim
  • Specializing too much can lead to a picture claim with too much detail