This area of infrastructure deals with a type of business asset called intellectual property. This type of asset isn’t necessarily physical, but it can be extremely valuable. This is a complicated body of law and there are many pitfalls for those who don’t educate themselves on the requirements. In order to protect intellectual property rights, certain steps need to be taken.
What types of intellectual property could my business have?
There are four main types of intellectual property:
A protection given to the creator of a creation that is in a tangible medium of expression (in other words, it has to be set out for people to see and cannot be an idea).
A word or design that appears on goods/services to distinguish them from others in the market. They indicate the source of the goods/services and are intended to protect consumers.
Given to an inventor for particular types of inventions as a right to the exclusive use of the invention for a set period of time.
Information developed by private companies that give them an advantage in the market place. They are kept secret from competitors and the public.
What should I do if I have copyrights to protect?
You likely deal with copyrighted materials in three ways. First, you may create copyright material in your own business and these are yours to protect. Second, you could create copyrighted materials that then belong to your client. Third, you may be using copyrighted material that belongs to others. In all three situations, you have to be aware of the steps you need to take to respect the rights involved, whether they are your rights or the rights of others.
Do I need to have a license agreement for my intellectual property?
That depends on who uses your intellectual property. If you allow others to use it, then you absolutely need to have a written license agreement. Without one, the question of ownership may arise and could cause business problems as well as rifts in key relationships. It’s also advisable to have a written contract to set out any rules for using the intellectual property, such as: Can it be changed? Can it be used in any way? And many other rules you may want to create to protect your creation and rights.
How do I protect my trade secrets?
The most important thing you can do is to treat them as confidential and keep them secret. If you can, put labels on whatever is physical (not all trade secrets are physical) and mark them as confidential. You must limit their access to those in your business who need to know – they should not be freely accessible. Use non-disclosure agreements with your workers so that they understand how this material is to be treated. And lastly, enforce your rights. If you don’t enforce them, you could lose them.