Entrepreneurs in the process of starting a business have no shortage of work to be done nor decisions to be made. Sometimes, protecting their intellectual property may not be their utmost priority. Failing to do so, however, can have significant repercussions for a business.
Intellectual property is the largest asset class held by businesses in both the US and Canada – businesses big and small are built on intellectual property. Putting appropriate protections in place at an early stage can help you to maximize the value of that intellectual property.
This article will outline the three key categories of intellectual property, their advantages, and the critical considerations which surround their protection.
Copyright protects your original literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work. It subsists in any of these works as soon as you create them, once they are fixed. This means you don’t absolutely need to register your copyright to have your work protected.
The content you write for your website, the website design itself, the book you wrote, or the song you composed, are all examples of works that are automatically protected by copyright so long as they are original. That protection takes the form of the exclusive legal right to produce, reproduce, publish or perform the original literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work.
While this right subsists automatically, there are nonetheless advantages to taking additional steps to register your copyright.
One reason you may want to consider registering your copyright is that copyright registration is evidence of your ownership of a work.
Many countries’ copyright laws include provisions which focus on the defendant’s knowledge or awareness of the copyright they have allegedly infringed. In Canada, whether the defendant had knowledge of your copyright can impact whether an infringement is made, or, if the defendant is held to have infringed your copyright, can determine the amount of compensation you’ll receive.
Registering your copyright is relatively simple compared with other intellectual property protection options and comes at a significantly lower cost. Maximizing your copyright protection in this way may, therefore, be an excellent first step toward a comprehensive intellectual property protection strategy.
What’s in a name? A lot of value is what. While your business may be just beginning, the reputation you acquire in the marketplace as you grow will soon come to be associated with your business and/or product name. That name then has the ability to attract customers. You don’t want someone else to be able to capitalize on the success of your brand and divert your sales, and that’s where trademarks come in.
While not always necessary, as the law in some countries (Canada is one) extends protection to unregistered trademarks, a trademark registration is still the best way to protect your brand. Registration broadens the scope of your protection compared with relying on an unregistered use of a mark. As a result, an initial investment in trademark registration is exactly that – an investment- and is likely to save you money in the long run.
Patent law protects new, useful, and inventive products, compositions, machines, and processes. If your business is selling a unique new product, you may be entitled to a patent for your invention.
A patent owner has the legal right to exclude others from making, using or selling their invention. Generally, this right lasts from the date the patent is granted to 20 years from the date the application for a patent was filed.
The value in a 20-year right to exclude others is significant, and patent applications undergo rigorous examination and are subject to strict timelines. Businesses built on potentially patentable inventions should be aware of the need to file a patent application as soon as possible.
In some countries, any public disclosure of the invention prior to filing for a patent precludes the inventor from being granted a patent. In other countries, a grace period applies to preserve your right to a patent for a set period of time after your first public disclosure.
If you’ve launched your business and made your product publicly available, you may have started to run the clock on your application if you intend to file one. This is one of many reasons businesses should have an intellectual property strategy in place from the early beginnings of their company. Your own disclosure, however, is not the only driving force for early application for a patent.
In many countries, patents are granted on a first-to-file basis. This means that the Patent Office is concerned not with who first invents something, but with who first files their application for a patent. If you delay in filing an application, you may find that someone else has independently created the same invention and filed a patent application in advance of yours.
To ensure that your business is equipped to effectively protect and maximize the value of its intellectual property consider consulting an experienced intellectual property lawyer. An intellectual property lawyer can help you devise a comprehensive strategy and ensure that your business decisions don’t threaten your ability to protect a very valuable asset.
Author Bio: Christopher Heer is the owner and founder of Heer Law. He is an intellectual property lawyer, registered patent agent, registered trademark agent, and is also certified as a specialist in intellectual property law (patent) by the Law Society of Ontario. He believes that intellectual property rights add tremendous value to businesses by enabling them to raise capital, build asset value, and grow faster under the protection that these exclusive rights give them.