A great deal of talk today is about intellectual property rights and the importance of intellectual property. What is intellectual property, and how do you get intellectual property protection?
What Is Intellectual Property?
Every great business starts with a great idea. However, if every time you tried to build a company based on your idea, someone copied it and started their own business with the same idea right when it was getting off the ground, you would have little incentive to keep creating. Intellectual property laws are designed to protect you, so you can benefit from your unique business idea before other people copy it.
What Are the Laws That Protect Intellectual Property?
Different laws are designed to protect intellectual property, which are dependent upon the form your intellectual property takes. Copyright is one group of laws that can protect a particular type of intellectual property. Trademark is another.
What Are the Different Types of Intellectual Property?
For legal purposes, four different types of intellectual property can have legal protections. They are:
- Trade Secrets: Trade secrets refer to an idea or an invention you come up with that differentiates your business from others in your market. Examples in the food space might include the formula for Coca-Cola or the combination of 11 herbs and spices KFC uses on their chicken. You are entitled to keep these discoveries a secret from your competitors, although you will also want the legal cover of one of the other types of intellectual property rights protections, such as a patent.
- Trademarks: A trademark protects a specific brand or brand name. Your trademark is only protected to the extent that it is unique. For example, anyone can open up a restaurant with a big “M” on the front of their building, but only McDonalds can use the “golden arches” M logo on their restaurants or in their advertising.
- Copyrights: A copyright protects a work of authorship. If you write a novel, a screenplay for a movie or a song, you are the sole owner of that work, and no one can use it without your permission — which usually involves paying you a royalty.
- Patents: A patent protects an invention. There are utility patents, which are protections for inventions that perform a unique function, such as a “better mousetrap,” and design patents, which protect a unique design, like the shape of the Coca-Cola bottle.
Can an Idea Be Considered Intellectual Property?
Unfortunately, you cannot copyright a simple idea. As good as your idea seems to you, ideas are cheap and plentiful, and there is no truly effective way to prove that someone else’s idea was stolen from you unless there is some physical manifestation of that idea. It is the elaboration of that idea that you can protect.
For example, Mark Zuckerberg was not the first person to come up with the idea of a social network. It’s what he did with that social network that makes it unique. Other people can create social networks, but there is only one Facebook. Zuckerberg could trademark the Facebook logo and patent the algorithm that powers it, but not the idea of a social network.
How Can You Protect an Idea?
If you have an idea for a story, write that story into a novel, screenplay or other literary form and copyright it. If you have an idea for a logo, create that logo and trademark it. If you have an idea for an invention, make the invention and patent it. Your idea by itself is not protectable, but what you do with it can be.
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