What is Intellectual Property and Why Protect It?

by:  Kathleen Kuznicki, Esq.

Intellectual property is a concept that is nebulous to most people, you probably have heard of it, but what is it really? Intellectual property is the result of human ingenuity and creativity. The law provides mechanisms through which creativity can be protected.  Intellectual property can be broken down into 1) literary and artistic works which can be protected by copyright registration; 2) product names and logos which can protected through trademark registration; and 3) inventions which can be protected by patents.  These forms of intellectual property are covered by federal law in the United States.  Trade secrets such as customer lists, recipes or any other proprietary information are also considered intellectual property, but trade secrets are covered under the laws of the individual states.

Why should intellectual property be important to business owners?  Because intellectual property are valuable business assets.  If properly protected, these assets can be revenue generators.  For example, entities might be interested in licensing your invention, or your trademark may provide for immediate recognition of your business and all its associated good will.

Protection is usually stated as the owner’s exclusive right to use their invention, trademark or copyrighted material, but in reality it gives owners the legal right to go after infringers in court.  Those who utilize your intellectual property without your permission are infringers.  Infringers are liable for damage awards and potentially liable for punitive damages if they are found to have willfully infringed.  When you register your trademark or copyright, or when you have a patent issue, this gives the public constructive notice, which means the public is deemed aware of your intellectual property, and no one can claim ignorance.

If you don’t protect your intellectual property, competitors can copycat your literary or artistic expressions, your inventions or your brand without fear of serious ramifications.  You want protection because you didn’t do all that hard work for another to capitalize!  If you don’t protect your intellectual property, competitors will utilize your creations without your permission and you most likely will not be able to make them compensate you. If a competitor sues or threatens to sue you, without intellectual property protection, you have less means to defend yourself.

Intellectual property protection is both offensive and defensive.  As offensive protection, you are able to assert your exclusive right to your intellectual property.  You can license your intellectual property to obtain royalties, you can sell the rights to your intellectual property or as stated above, you can pursue infringers in a law suit.    As for defensive protection, protecting your intellectual property may prevent you from being sued, and if you are sued, a competitor would have to prove that your intellectual property is invalid.

Kathleen Kuznicki is a contributing writer to Exit Promise. Please visit www.exitpromise.com to view more articles by Kathleen.

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