If you’ve been in the innovation space for long enough, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the various measures that help protect your intellectual property. For some people, this information can sound pretty complicated, which is why we’ll simplify it, and explain exactly how to get intellectual property rights. 

How to Get Intellectual Property Rights 

When looking to protect your creative works or inventions, it’s critical to grasp what constitutes intellectual property and the different categories of rights you can obtain. These foundational elements will ensure your valuable assets are well-protected under the law.

A man and woman reviewing documents at a desk

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind for which you can obtain exclusive rights recognized by law. These rights allow you to benefit from your work or investment in creation, much like physical property rights. 

Categories of Intellectual Property Rights

Four main categories of IP rights protect your intangible assets:

  1. Patent: For your inventions, a patent gives you the exclusive right to prevent others from making, using, selling, or importing your invention without your consent. Patents cover new and useful processes, machines, manufactures, or compositions of matter. Patents are governed by Title 35 of the United States Code.
  2. Copyright: Protects literary, musical, and artistic works. This includes books, music, and artwork. It grants you the right to control the use of these works and prohibits others from using them without your permission. They are governed by Title 17 of the United States Code
  3. Trademark: Helps identify and distinguish your products or services from those of others. Trademarks include names, logos, and slogans. They signal the quality and origin of the goods or services to consumers. They are governed by the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. § 1051 et seq.).
  4. Trade Secret: This comprises formulas, practices, processes, designs, instruments, patterns, or compiled information you use to obtain an economic advantage over competitors who do not know or use it. They are governed by the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) of 2016 (18 U.S.C. § 1836) and state laws based on the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA).

These protections can be vital in securing the efforts you invest in your creative or innovative pursuits. Understanding which type of IP protection suits your creation will set the foundation for maintaining its value and exclusive rights.

Patents

To secure a patent, you begin by submitting a patent application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Here’s what you will need to do:

  1. Prepare your application: Your application must include a detailed description of your invention, claims that define its novelty, drawings, if necessary, and an oath or declaration.
  2. Choose the right type of application: You can file a provisional or non-provisional patent application, the former being a lower-cost first step that allows you to claim “patent pending” status for your invention.
  3. Examination: After submission, a USPTO examiner will review your claim to make sure your invention is novel, non-obvious, and useful. This may involve several rounds of communication and revisions to your application.
  4. Approval: If your invention meets the criteria, your patent will be granted, giving you exclusive rights to the invention for a set number of years.
Young women of various ethnicities brainstorming together on a project

Types of Patents

The USPTO recognizes three main types of patents, each protecting different kinds of inventions:

Each type of patent protects a different aspect of your creativity and requires a specific approach for a successful application.

Maintaining Patent Rights

After securing a patent, it’s your responsibility to maintain it, which you can do by:

Remember that patents are offered for a limited time. Utility patents are generally valid for 20 years from the application date, design patents last for 15 years from the grant date, and plant patents have a term of 20 years.

Regular attention to these details will make certain that your patent protection remains active and your invention stays secure.

Copyrights

Copyright is a legal right that grants you, the creator of the original work, exclusive rights to its use and distribution. This is usually for a limited time to enable you to receive compensation for the effort and creativity invested in creating the work. This law covers various creative works, including art, literature, music, and more.

A group of people sitting around a table with laptops

Copyright does not protect ideas, systems, or factual information, rather, the form or the way these are expressed.

Copyright Registration Procedures

Although your work is copyrighted the moment it is created and fixed in a physically perceivable form, registration with the US Copyright Office is necessary to file a lawsuit for infringement in the US. Here’s a simplified process to help you with registration:

  1. Prepare a copy of your work.
  2. Complete the application on the US Copyright Office website.
  3. Pay the registration fee.
  4. Submit your application along with a copy of your work.

Once you’ve completed these steps, your work will be reviewed, and if everything is in order, a certificate of registration will be issued.

Enforcing Copyright Protection

To enforce copyright protection, you must be vigilant about unauthorized use of your work and ready to act if such use occurs. Here are the steps you can take:

Trademarks

When you decide to trademark your brand name, logo, or slogan, you essentially claim ownership of the unique identifier of your goods and services in the marketplace. A trademark symbolizes your brand’s reputation and quality. Trademarks like the Nike “Swoosh” or the McDonald’s Golden Arches become synonymous with the quality and origin of the products.

Three professionals reviewing documents in a modern office setting

Trademarks differentiate your goods/services from competitors, signify consistent quality, and facilitate advertising and consumer recognition. Trademarks can include a variety of components, such as:

The Process of Trademark Registration

Registering a trademark is not mandatory; however, it gives you certain legal advantages. Registering with the US Patent and Trademark Office provides nationwide protection and the rights to use the ® symbol, showing that your mark is officially registered.

To register your trademark, you must:

  1. Search the USPTO database to make sure your trademark isn’t already in use.
  2. Identify the appropriate class for your goods or services.
  3. File an application with the USPTO.
  4. Respond to any office actions or oppositions.
  5. Once approved, maintain your trademark status through regular use and required renewals.

Handling Trademark Infringements

If someone uses your trademark or a confusingly similar mark without your permission, it constitutes infringement. Swift and decisive action is important in such cases to protect your rights. Actions to take include:

It’s critical to monitor your trademarks and immediately address any infringement to prevent dilution or damage to your brand’s name and reputation.

Trade Secrets 

Trade secrets encompass confidential business information that provides an enterprise with a competitive edge. This could include formulas, practices, designs, instruments, patterns, or valuable information because it is not generally known to the public or competitors. 

Two professionals in business attire sitting at a desk with a laptop

Others are formulas and recipes, including unique combinations of ingredients or methods, business methods, including proprietary processes and techniques, and customer lists, like confidential client information.

Identifying what constitutes a trade secret within your organization involves understanding what information you have that is secret, confers a business advantage, and has been subject to reasonable steps to keep it secret.

Related Questions

What Qualifies as Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property (IP) encompasses many creations from your imagination and intellect. These include inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, and geographical indications. Whether it’s keeping a new gadget from imitation or ensuring only you can profit from a novel, IP rights are the legal tools that can help you do that. 

How Can I Protect My Invention Without a Patent?

Two key strategies can help safeguard your work without a patent: Provisional patent applications (PPA) and nondisclosure agreements (NDA). A PPA allows you to label your invention as “patent pending”, which can inform others about your intent to protect your idea. An NDA ensures that the other party keeps your invention information confidential.

What Are the Requirements for a Patent?

Firstly, it should be novel; it must differ from anything previously available. Non-obvious; meaning your invention should not be an obvious solution or improvement to others skilled in the related field. It must be usable and offer some benefit. Finally, the subject matter of your invention must be patentable. For example, abstract ideas or natural phenomena aren’t eligible.

Conclusion

Your awareness of these protections helps defend what is yours and also respects the innovative efforts of others. As you navigate the complexities of intellectual property, remember that these rights are designed to incentivize creativity and sharing of ideas. Consider consulting a legal professional to explore your rights fully, ensuring your intellectual endeavors are legally protected.