Intellectual Property Legal Forms

Whether it be copyright registration, patent protection, trademark infringement or software licensing, protecting your business's intellectual property rights is essential for its future success.

The backbone of any business is its intellectual property. From its inventions to its software to even its name, the importance of protecting intellectual property permeates just about every facet of a business's day to day operations.

Protection of intellectual property occurs primarily in three stages:
    i) securing rights at invention- sometimes in the form of a registration (e.g. patent registration) as well as limiting its exposure to the public;
    ii) affirming rights during licensing and other transactions - often in the form of restating ownership in the agreements themselves, as well as the use of confidentiality clauses and agreements; and
    iii) defense against infringement - including the use of cease and desist letters and other tools.

Intellectual Property FAQ

What is Intellectual Property?

When many people think about property, they tend to think about what is most tangible – real estate, for example. But people also forget the importance of protecting intellectual property, which is any type of original or creative work. For example, a movie screenplay would be considered intellectual property, just as the manuscript for a novel or a patent on a new invention would. Other types of intellectual property include visual works such as paintings and musical compositions.

The United States government has a few strong avenues for protecting your intellectual property. From the artist’s perspective, the protection of intellectual property is best achieved through registering a work with the government – patents and copyrights are two of the most popular types of intellectual property. While the government and, therefore, the justice system will be willing to protect your property, the true protection begins with a full knowledge of how intellectual property works.

What types of Intellectual Property are there?

There is a wide, wide range of property that could be considered intellectual property. In the end, what ultimately defines intellectual property is whether or not you are able to register this property with the U.S. government. The best approach to take is that of a bird’s-eye view and look at the most common types of intellectual property registered with the federal government:

  • Copyrights: A copyright is a formal registration of original work with the government, and can extend to works as wide-ranging as big-budget Hollywood films to a small business logo. Screenplays, novels, poems, and musical compositions can all be registered for copyrights in order to ensure their protection.
  • Patents: Typically reserved for inventions and improvements on inventions, patents are essentially registrations of work that would not be considered, in the strict sense, “art.” For example, an improved showerhead could become a registered patent. Patents carry a lot of legal weight, which is why so many businesses are quick to look for the next important one.
  • Trademarks: Understanding the nature of trademarks (as opposed to copyrights) is simply a matter of looking at the word itself. A trade “mark” is what a company uses to distinguish its own work from the work of others and therefore prevent others to use a similar mark.

These are the three main types of intellectual property protection, and chances are if you have an original work of some sort, it will fall under one of these three categories.

What are some strategies for protecting my Intellectual Property?

If you are certain that your claims to your intellectual property are being infringed upon, you cannot expect the justice system to handle the issue for you automatically. Many individuals and companies find that they have to take a proactive approach to their own property.

One of the first tools that most people use is a Cease and Desist letter. This letter serves to identify the source of the problem – what the copyright in question is as well as how it’s being infringed upon – and then requests that the perpetrator of the infringement then change their behavior. In many cases, this letter in and of itself can be enough to stop the behavior; however, just as often, it is ignored. After that point, it is possible to pursue legal action against the person infringing upon the intellectual property; because the intellectual property is registered with the U.S. Government, it will be easy to prove that it exists and is being infringed upon. Many of these lawsuits are then settled out-of court (at this point, the owner of the property may need to receive legal fees back), but many go to court when no settlement can be arranged between the parties.

What happens if I work for someone and create an original work?

If you signed an agreement that says anything created in your employment or work-for-hire for someone else becomes their intellectual property, then that is a lawful arrangement. Because both sides are received consideration (the employer is receiving the work created while you are receiving compensation for your work), this is a fully valid arrangement. If you are under employment from an employer who reserves the right to the work you do at that job, you will have to create work on your own time if you want to own your own intellectual property.

These arrangements are actually quite common and should be expected for anyone seeking employment, though they are certainly negotiable as well if you have a professional relationship of some sort with your employer.

Can copyrights be used by anyone else?

Yes, but if the use is to be lawful, then it will require permission of the copyright owner. Many filmmakers will note that they were not able to secure the rights for certain musical pieces, for example, because the original artist (still in possession of the intellectual property rights) has denied them use of the material.

When a copyright owner wants to let someone else use their intellectual property, it is usually handled in one of two ways: either a licensing arrangement is made, or the right to re-use the copyrighted material is assigned in some way. There are legal documents for exactly these transactions.

What kind of intellectual property licenses are there?

There are a number of licensing agreements that two parties can arrange. For example, the most common is that of a Copyright License Agreement, in which copyrighted material (such as a song) is licensed for use by a second party. Other types of these arrangements include Domain Name License Agreements, Home Video License Agreements, Music Licenses, and Patent License Agreements. These arrangements can be highly valuable to the original owner of the intellectual property because they constitute a potential source of income from the ownership of the property going into the future; for example, someone who wrote a hit song long ago can still see money from it thanks to the licensing of their song.

You Need These Three Intellectual Assets Copyrighted

Imagine this: you write a screenplay and you know it’s going to be the next big hit. You send it out to some production companies and it gets turned down. Rejected, you turn to something else – only to see that one of the production companies has essentially stolen your screenplay and started filming!

That’s theft no matter which way you look at it. And just because intellectual or creative property is not as tangible as more physical assets like precious metals or land does not mean that you shouldn’t take precautions to avoid the type of scenario you just saw above. That’s why you need to keep these three intellectual assets copyrighted if you’re going to make the big bucks for your creative work that you know you deserve.

1. Creative Writing.

Screenplays, novels, short stories, nonfiction books – it all needs to be protected if you’re going to ensure that all of your hard work in creating something of real value (and real length) is not going to end up in the wrong hands. You may think that you’re protected simply by being able to show that you created your piece first – but how can you really prove that for sure unless you’re copyrighted at a certain date? The copyright is what truly holds up in courts of law, and it’s exactly what you should be after if you’ve written something creative that cost you a lot of time and effort.

2. Slogans and Advertisements.

You know how every commercial and advertisement seems to have a little piece of artwork next to the words that says something like “TM” or “R”? That’s because the people who took the time to come up with the slogan or create the advertisement were also smart enough to place a copyright on their work, thus ensuring that their creative endeavors in marketing their product cannot be directly copied by their competition.

Yes, not every commercial we see on TV is Grade-A material. But if you plan on making a mark in the advertising world, you’d better make sure that your ad campaigns are properly protected as intellectual property by law; you don’t want to lose your brand identity simply because you couldn’t take the time to trademark. (It’s worth noting that trademarks are different than copyrights).

3. Software.

We live in a world where much of the innovation is happening on computers and online. In these cases, the lack of “hard copies” to steal makes designers and developers of software especially open to intellectual property theft. And when you consider the fact that software is easy to copy and steal with the click of the mouse – well, the logic begins to add up.

That’s why every piece of software you produce should be copyrighted as if you had drafted a screenplay or published a book. The software you design should have the potential to earn you money if you want; either way, the decision should be up to you because the software needs to be your property. That can happen with a simple copyright.

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