Dealing with intellectual property in the digital age, you need to make sure that you and your business are fully protected. Admittedly the laws have yet to catch up to the times but until they do, it’s good to work within the current framework and be mindful of other external variables.
Types of Intellectual Property
Legally speaking, there are four types:
- Patents are inventions you register with the government. With this type of property, you get the right to exclude anyone else from marketing it or manufacturing it.
- Trademarks are names, phrases, sounds, or symbols that are connected with your brand. Trademarks don’t have to be registered; companies wanting to stake their claim can affix the TM symbol to mark their territory.
- Copyright are written or artistic expressions such as novels, poems, songs, and movies. The owner of the copyrighted work can reproduce it, make derivatives of the works, sell, perform or display it to the public. The work doesn’t need to be registered unless you’re going to sue for copyright infringement,
- Trade secrets are formulas, patterns, devices, data compilations, anything that gives your company a competitive advantage. The trade secret is covered by state law and it must be shown that it adds value to the company, is a secret and is well safeguarded. Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coca Cola are examples of this.
Protecting your intellectual property whether you choose to form an LLC or just register DBA status means you have the taken the necessary steps to keep your intellectual capital safe. You just need to make sure that you have the necessary funds to do it as it can cost you tens of thousands in legal fees and may take years to fully materialize. If you’re adamant that this is the legal route to go then start the process early and make sure you have the right experts working for you.
Just because your intellectual property is protected in one country, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe in others. In some countries forming an LLC with the belief that you are protected, you may be in for a shock. Countries like China that signed the TRIPS, Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, agreement that asks countries protect the intellectual property of others, tends to regard foreign intellectual property as communal. It and India are two countries that are perceived as very corrupt, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index.
Before introducing your intellectual property to a global audience, you need to take the necessary precautions which include protecting your important information, such as source code with strong access codes. Make sure you understand the legal system and culture of the countries. This will help you to negotiate contracts that favor your company best. Make sure that you maintain the originals of all of your documents, that way you have a sterile trail to follow if something goes wrong.
Minding Your DMCA
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was created back in 1998 before YouTube and the concept of content aggregation was commonplace. It protected sites where were encouraged to upload their creative material and provide content. The user who uploads the content must make it clear that they own the uploaded material or have permission from the copyright owner to share the content. If that’s not the case, the owner of the video would notify the site of the infringement and they would take down the material. There are specific steps that need to be taken but if your business is going to be running contests, then you need to make sure that you are away of DMCA and protect your business accordingly.
Intellectual property law can become a minefield no matter if you are the creator or the user. Take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your business or you could be facing an expensive lesson one day.