An Overview of Intellectual Property Rights
By: Danielle Bratek, Esq.
July 29, 2013
Tangible vs. Intangible (Intellectual)
Businesses possess both tangible and intangible assets. Both types are valuable to a business, but some are easier to identify and evaluate than others. Items which can be touched or held are referred to as tangible assets. Examples of assets that are easy to identify include a commercial building with all of its contents, including desks, chairs, computers, the coffee pot and even sticky-notes. Assets which cannot be touched or held are referred to as intangible assets. These types of assets are more difficult to identify. Examples of intangibles are products of the mind, such as inventive methods or ideas, goodwill of the business, and creative contributions. Sometimes the value of intangible property is overlooked.
The niche field of Intellectual Property (IP) law assists businesses in identifying and protecting their treasured intangible assets. Like tangibles, intangible property can add significant value to a corporation’s assets; consider McDonald’s arch and the Nike Swoosh. When businesses are sold, both tangible and intangible assets are assigned a value, and this value helps to determine the profitability of the business and what its value might be to an investor.
Patents, Trademarks & Copyrights
Three main branches of Intellectual Property are Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights. Each branch helps to protect and identify certain intellectual property (intangible assets).
Patents protect new innovation. Inventors seek to protect their innovations by registering the new idea, method or object with the U.S. Patent Office. This method of registration is known as a patent application. The process can be somewhat complex, but when an application matures into a registration, valuable rights to that concept are held by the owner for approximately 20 years. Such rights may be utilized in an existing business, sold to a competitor, or licensed. The patent holder has exclusive rights to the invention, and can prevent competition from manufacturing or selling products which infringe on the contents of the patent.
Trademarks protect words, phrases, symbols, images, sounds or colors. Almost anything can be protected by trademark if it aids a consumer in identifying a product or service. Commonly, trademarks are used to protect corporate logos or slogans. This is often tied to the branding and marketing of the company. Trademarks aid consumers in differentiating among competing products. Protection of trademark intellectual property rights are obtained through a registration process, which may occur at a state or federal level. With the existence of the internet and interstate trade, the broadest scope of protection is through a U.S. Federal Trademark Registration. Once registered, businesses are able to prevent competitors from using a similar trademark to mislead consumers under the Lanham Act. Further, it protects the owner’s financial investment and reputation in the products or services it sells. Protection of intellectual property should not be overlooked or undervalued.
Copyrights protect original creative works, such as literary, musical, film, sound, and artistic creations. Protection of these intellectual property rights is established by submitting a copyright application with the US. Copyright Office. This process is simple, and once a work is registered the owner can restrict or direct how the works can be used, and whether they can be copied, distributed, or sold to the public. The copyright registrant is able to enforce the exclusive rights granted by the registration under U.S. Copyright law.
Should I Register my Rights?
Registration provides protection of intellectual property from deceptive third parties. Inventors, creators, and business owners have the burden of enforcing their rights over competitors. The owner of IP rights has the legal capacity to enforce their rights under Federal statutes and laws, which are not available to un-registered assets. Further, intellectual property (intangible assets) are valuable to the overall net-worth of the business.
Has your company taken steps to increase the value of your business while protecting its intellectual property? Has it taken steps to protect its other assets through asset protection strategies?
Danielle Bratek, Esq., LLC
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