Copyrights, trademarks and patents
Products, services, logos, slogans, music, publications, inventions known as intellectual property, these are the things that build business, grow the economy, define capitalism and make many businesses and individuals very wealthy. In fact, businesses based on intellectual property drive more economic growth in the United States than any other single sector.Intellectual property law is the term for the multiple areas of law—copyright, trademark and patent—that governs the ownership and rights to these creations. Without these laws in place, businesses based on intellectual property become vulnerable to threats of degraded reputations and deflated bottom lines posed by pirates and counterfeiters while consumers become vulnerable to knock-offs or products and services of decreased quality. What’s more, businesses failing to honor the copyrights, patents or trademarks of others stand to suffer loss of credibility at best or find themselves embattled in the courtroom at worst.While our Blue Paper® goes into greater detail on the subject, here’s a rundown of some basic information to get you started:Copyrights: According to the Associated Press, copyright is the right of authors to control the reproduction and use of their creative expressions that have been fixed in tangible form, ranging from books to computer discs to the Internet.

Trademarks: Trademarks protect any word, name, symbol, device or any combination used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one party from those of others.

Patents: A patent is intellectual property protection for an invention—it grants property rights to the inventor and is also issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Patents are granted for new, useful and non-obvious inventions for a period of 20 years from the filing date of an application and provide the right to exclude others from making, using, selling or offering to sell the invention in the U.S. or importing the invention into the U.S. in that time period.

Know what’s out there
Especially where trademarks and patents are involved, businesses looking to seek protection for their own work must do considerable research to determine whether or not a similar trademark or patent has already been claimed. Searching Internet domain names, social media accounts and establishing Google™ alerts are all great ways to keep an eye out for competition or potential obstacles.

Educate employees on the importance of trademarks and copyrights
This is two-fold: Employees should know what intellectual property is and what in relation to your business is covered. Employees that write or post updates to your company’s website, blog and social networks should be especially aware of how they are able to reference or use the work of others in order to avoid placing your organization in a legal hot seat.

Take time at an upcoming meeting to discuss trademarks, copyrights and patents using primers available at www.USPTO.gov, www.StopFakes.gov or in any “AP Stylebook.”  Keep the review session top of mind by offering takeaways like a magnifying glass and a note to “Read the fine print!,” a Pencil-Shaped Stress Reliever with a note to edit wisely, or a binder that includes a guide for quick reference.

Promote your copyrighted or trademarked work
Stake a claim to your business’s copyrighted material for public consumption or purchase by promoting it on your business’s website, blog or social networks. Use logo’d products like pens or mugs to promote your trademarked visual identity in your store or office—don’t forget to include the ‘®’ symbol for registered work!

Intellectual property law can be confusing…but once understood, copyrights, trademarks and patents can protect a business’ investments, its creation and the very things that differentiate itself from competitors. Additionally, knowing how intellectual property works means a reduced opportunity for a business to unknowingly infringe upon another company’s rights which often results in litigation. Protect your brand, grow your business and support the free market with copyrights, trademarks and patents.

“Stop Fakes.” United States Patent and Trademark Office. Web. 31 July 2010.

Goldstein, Norm. Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. New York: Associated, 2005. Print.

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