Intellectual property laws are complex, and these intricacies often lead to confusion for individuals and businesses. It behooves companies to understand intellectual property (IP) laws so they can properly protect their own IP, and understand their rights when it comes to using or referencing the IP of others.

Do not confuse copyrights and trademarks

Trademarks are used to differentiate a company’s products or services. Trademarks might protect a logo, name, phrase, design, or other branding element. A copyright is legal protection for an original work. Such an authored work may include an artistic product such as a song, a photograph, or a novel. It could also include computer software or architecture. It does not include ideas or methods of operation. Copyright holders can pursue claims at their discretion, and many owners choose not to enforce copyrights since this choice does not weaken the copyright itself (think about fan fiction or tribute bands). However, if someone else attempts to claim ownership over the copyright, it is imperative to have the copyright established so that such false claims can be corrected. Conversely, trademark owners must enforce their trademarks or risk losing them completely and diluting the value of a product or service.

Businesses do not automatically own IP

Businesses often falsely believe that they automatically own the IP created by any employee or contractor they hire. Unless a company’s contract explicitly states that it owns full rights to these developments, it may instead find that it has limited or no rights at all to such works. Corporations should undertake a thorough contract review immediately to guarantee full rights to the intellectual property it’s developing.

Protect your IP globally

Patents, which are sought to protect unique inventions, are one example of a safeguard that does not automatically equate to worldwide protection. Obtaining a patent from the US Patent Office only protects that patent within the United States. If a company is conducting business abroad, it should file for patents in each country in which it plans to operate. Additionally, laws vary around the world, so a company must comply with each individual country’s unique laws.

Today, IP and intangible assets comprise the lion’s share of a company’s value and promise. Therefore, it is never been more crucial to establish an intellectual property strategy, and enforce it to the fullest. In a competitive marketplace, these protections can hold a business’s future in the balance. In the US, we operate on a “first to file” system rather than a “first to invent,” meaning that protection is given to those who seek it quickly. In the current business climate, there is little room for error on this, and a smart and effective strategy should be top of mind for every business leader.

Misconceptions about IP law are everywhere and too abundant to cover comprehensively in a blog post. Engage a trusted IP consultant to help educate your business on the many intricacies of the law and dispel the myths that have crippled scores of great companies. Defending a business’s IP carves out its competitive edge, enables sustainable growth, boosts profitability, and drives higher valuations for the company. A sound strategy makes for a sound future.