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What is Intellectual Property and Why It’s Important to Your Small Business

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Intellectual property (IP) is defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as “the creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”

In some cases, small businesses neglect the basics of intellectual property law, potentially losing out on protecting their creations, or worse, being sued for violating someone else’s intellectual property. If you’re a business owner, consider retaining the services of a knowledgeable Washington D.C. area small business lawyer to ensure your intellectual assets are protected.

Types of Intellectual Property

There are different types of intellectual property, but three of the most familiar categories are trademarks, copyrights, and patents.

  • Trademarks: A sign that distinguishes goods and/or services of one business apart from those of other businesses.
  • Copyrights: Legal term used to describe the rights creators have over their creations, which may include books, music, paintings, photos, films, computer programs, ads, technical drawings, and more. Only expressions are covered, not ideas, procedures, operation methods, etc.
  • Patents: Exclusive right granted for an invention which provides the patent owner rights to decide how or if an invention can be used by others.

Protecting Your Intellectual Property

When it comes to copyrights, it’s generally agreed in most countries that copyright protection is automatic and doesn’t require registration or formal notice. This came about from the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. There are some countries that do have systems in place to allow for voluntary registration, so it’s worth it to check on local requirements if you have specific business ties with another country. One benefit of a copyright is economic rights, which allows the rightful owner to receive financial benefits from the use of his works by others. Protection does have a time limit, which can vary based on law. Member countries of the Berne Convention typically hold that the time limit should be equal to or longer than 50 years after the creator’s death.

To protect a trademark, you’ll need to register and pay fees to the national/regional trademark office. If you’re looking for international protection, you can either file an application with each country you’re seeking protection in, or look into WIPO’s Madrid System, which lets you file a single application and pay one set of fees to receive protection in up to 116 countries. Protection of a trademark offers exclusive rights to the use of the registered trademark. The duration of registration can vary, but 10 years is a common timeframe. It can be renewed when more fees are paid.

Patents give the owner exclusive rights to prevent or stop others from benefiting commercially from your patented invention. This means that others cannot use, make, distribute, import, or sell your invention without your consent. Patents are typically only valid in the country or region where it was filed, and it’s only valid for a limited time, typically 20 years from the filing date.

Hiring a Small Business Lawyer

If you have questions on intellectual property or require other legal assistance, let the experienced team at Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing in Washington D.C. handle all your small business needs. Contact us at 202-362-5900 to schedule a consultation.

Resource:

wipo.int/treaties/en/text.jsp?file_id=283698

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