Intellectual property is key for many businesses in the US today, and there are numerous different kinds. Your business may have been founded on different types of intellectual property; for instance, you may have created a logo (to designate what types of products you sell and create familiarity with the public) from the beginning, meaning it could be printed on signs, marketing products for your company, and items like business cards and letterhead.
Logos, symbols, and branding marks are typically protected by trademark, although items like slogans may be designated with a service mark (denoting what services you provide). Copyrights are approved for individuals and businesses who have registered artistic works—and this can span many things, from a screenplay to a cookbook to a work of architecture or software. Patents are granted (usually for a period of only about 20 years) for inventions, meaning that the inventor then has exclusivity regarding manufacturing and sales. A patent owner can also decide who has rights for activities such as distribution, importing, and exporting. All these items are intellectual property, and as a business owner, any of these IP types could be invaluable to your business.
Trade secrets encompass a whole other level of intellectual property, and generally means that employees and contractors should be well-apprised of confidentiality issues as well as who has ownership of such intellectual property if they leave their jobs. You should have a trade secret protection policy for staff to follow, meaning that you have legal recourse later should there be any misappropriation, or improper usage. An employee manual is recommended for a company of any size, although its size may vary depending on the scope of your business and how many people work there.
The United States Trademark and Patent Office (USTPO) defines a trade secret as the following:
Any of these items can become trade secrets in business when used to obtain an economic advantage over competitors who do not know or use it. Certain policies apply to trade secrets too internationally. The US is part of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is also part of the party to the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual-Property Rights (TRIPS). This means they must provide trade secret protection:
“Article 39 paragraph 2 requires member nations to provide a means for protecting information that is secret, commercially valuable because it is secret, and subject to reasonable steps to keep it secret. The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 created federal civil cause of action, strengthening U.S. trade secret protection, with a choice for the parties between localized disputes under state laws or disputes under federal law, heard in federal courts,” states the USPTO. “While state laws differ, there is similarity among the laws because almost all states have adopted some form of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.”
As a business owner, you must maintain secrecy over trade secrets in order to have to leverage later to sue someone regarding misappropriating. If secrecy was disclosed due to your actions, there can no longer be any protection over it in terms of being awarded damaged in court.
“Trade secrets do not expire so protection continues until discovery or loss,” states the USPTO.
Intellectual property topics and issues can be complex and often require the assistance of a skilled attorney.
The Bolender Law Firm can assist you in all intellectual property matters. Call us at 310-320-0725 now or submit an easy consultation request online. We are here to help!