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Protecting your intellectual property rights is a complicated business

Before heading to the courts to protect your business interests, you first need to understand what those rights are and exactly how to protect them.

Even something as simple as creating an online poker website becomes complicated when dealing with protecting your rights.

What is a copyright and how to protect a copyright?

Copyright is a law that gives the owner of a work (for example, a book, movie, picture, song or website) the right to say how other people can use it. Copyright laws make it easier for authors to make money by selling their works. With copyright, a work can only be copied if the owner gives permission.

What is copyleft and how to protect a copyleft?

A copyright is a legal right bestowed upon creators of original works to dictate how those works can or cannot be copied, modified, and distributed by others. If someone uses or distributes an original work in a way that’s contrary to what its creator allows (“infringement”), the creator is entitled to seek legal action.

The main idea behind copyright is that creators restrict what others can or cannot do with their works and must grant individual permission to do otherwise.

Copyleft licenses exist within the legal structure of copyrights. Despite what the name implies, copyleft isn’t about abolishing copyrights. Rather, copyleft licenses are a subset of copyright licenses, and the goal is to restore freedom to users.

The core concept of copyleft is that users should have the right to freely use, copy, modify, and distribute works however they want, with one crucial clause: all derivative works must offer the same freedoms to users.

There are several different legal agreements that fall within the idea of copyleft: Releasing to the Public Domain, Creative Commons, MIT License, etc.  Although the details are different, they are all designed to prevent future people from declaring copyrights on your creativity that you intended to keep available without copyright restrictions.

What is a Patent and how to Protect a Patent?

A patent gives an inventor the right to stop other people from making or using their invention. If someone makes or uses that invention without being allowed to, the inventor can sue that person in court to make them stop.  There are actually three different types of patents.

Utility Patent

90% of all patents are utility patents.  Utility patents cover machines, processes, methods, compositions, and anything manufactured that has a useful and specific function.  A utility patent can also be issued as an improvement to any of the above inventions. When a patent is being reviewed, reviewers look for inventions and functions that are novel, not obvious, and specific.

Utility patents last for 20 years from the date that the patent application was filed.  In certain situations, a patent can be expanded beyond 20 years.

Design Patent

A design patent protects its aesthetic appearance.  Design patents can be issued for the appearance, design, shape or general ornamentation of an invention.  Design patents are granted for those appearances that are new, specific, and not obvious.

If a design patent is filed, the function or utility of the product is not protected, unless a utility patent is also filed in order to protect both the function and appearance of the invention. A design patent application usually includes a simple drawing and quick description of the product’s appearance.

Design patents last for 14 years.

Plant Patents

Plant patents are available for the discovery or invention of plants that are asexually reproduced. They must be, like the other patents, novel, distinct and not obvious. They have a 20-year lifespan that does not include maintenance fees.

Hybrids (though not first-generation), mutants, sports and other plan varieties can have plant patents, which prevents others from growing and selling the plants. This type of patent was created in order to protect the grower who found a new variety and would then be subsequently put out of business once competitors learned how to produce the plant as well, and usually, at a greater scale.

What is a Trademark and how to Protect a Trademark?

While both a copyright and a trademark offer intellectual property protection, they protect different types of assets. Copyright is geared toward literary and artistic works, such as books and videos. A trademark protects items that help define a company brand, such as its logo.

Trademarks include company names, logos, slogans and designs used to identify and distinguish a company’s goods in its business trade. The physical mark can be a word, sign, symbol or design that identifies the trademark owner. A trademark must be a unique identifying mark, specifically associated with the goods or services that a company offers in commercial trade.

One type of trademark includes the company logo. A logo can qualify as a trademark — if it meets the minimum requirements. To qualify as a trademark, a logo must be a unique mark used to identify and distinguish the company’s goods or services offered in the marketplace. Strong logos often become easily recognizable trademarks throughout society.

Summary

With things being very easy to copy on the internet, it becomes difficult to actually enforce copyright.  The same is true even for patents where you hear stories about a company sending a product to be manufactured in China, and their invention going out the back door and being sold by a different company.

If you follow the software development industry, there is also a lot of lawsuits that deal with patents being issued for items that people educated in the field would be considered obvious, but the patents were issued anyways.

Finally, traditionally, the US had a “first to invent” system.  If a person could prove that they were the ones to first invent something through a published article, etc., they would get the patent.

Now the US operates on a “first to file” method. Person A invents something. 6 months later, person B invents something similar. Person B files for a patent, and gets the patent, because Person A was not the first to file for a patent application even if they were the first person to do the invention.

There are even stories where a company has been in business for several years, but trademarks were never filed.  Then a “fake company” is created with that company name, and the original company is given a cease and dismiss letter with demands for payment for trademark infringement.

Learn the laws in your country of business as well as international standards.  Once you become serious about your business that you were to start seeking investor money or start doing advertising to sell your product or idea, it is time to start protecting your intellectual rights.

And best of luck with your business venture.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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