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4 Types of Intellectual Property Protection & IP Rights

Posted on Thursday August 4, 2022

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Intellectual property protection requires more than filing a patent or submitting a copyright; you have to train your staff to be diligent in IP protection.

What Is Intellectual Property (IP)?

Intellectual property deals with creative ability. It refers to innovations, creations, or inventions from the mind. IP covers a wide range of artistic and literary works, such as images, designs, symbols, books, and so on.

The four types of intellectual property protection are as follows:

  1. Patents
  2. Copyrights
  3. Trademarks
  4. Trade Secrets

Intellectual property is protected and enforced using legal instruments such as copyrights, trademarks, and patents. The object of IP is to ensure people earn the rightful recognition and control of their creative endeavors, in addition to reaping the financial benefits thereof.

What Are the Four Types of Intellectual Property Protection?

In order to protect your intellectual property, you need to create ownership rights around your original ideas, especially if your invention has economic value. Broadly speaking, there are four types of IP protection, and the method you choose depends on the nature of the IP you’re seeking to protect.

What Is a Patent?

Patents deal with inventions. Inventions typically constitute a product of imagination such as a method, composition, or process; an invention can also be a unique or novel device.

A patent grants the owner of an invention exclusive rights over their creation. These rights include the legal entitlement to decide whether their invention can be used by others and how it can be used. So, the patent owner can subsequently decide to license this right to others, with or without condition(s).

However, this right is contingent on the inventor providing full disclosure of the technical information of our secure collaboration functionality to the patent office.

Three types of patents exist: design, utility, and plant patents.

  • Utility patent: These patents are granted to those who either discover or invent a nonobvious, new, and/or improved process or useful product. These can also include an article of manufacture, a machine, and the composition of matter.
  • Design patent: These largely cover new and original ornamental designs. Design patents can only protect the appearance of the design, not its structure or utilitarian features.
  • Plant patent: A plant patent is only provided to plants that have been asexually produced. Hence, this type of patent disproportionately impacts those dealing with plants, such as the agriculture industry, pharmaceutical industry, and the medical research field.

The patent is granted to new and distinctive plants, especially to prevent key characteristics from being used, copied, or sold by others. 
U.S. patents are granted for 20 years. However, design patents have a 15-year term. The duration is calculated from the earliest effective nonprovisional date the patent was filed in the United States. But this date can be extended to take into account delays resulting from the patent office examining the application.

This gives the patent owner, during this period, the right to prevent other people from using or taking advantage of an idea without the owner’s express permission.

What Is a Copyright?

Copyright is a form of IP protection concerned with safeguarding artistic and creative expressions that are original works of authorship. These include books, blogs, paintings, photographs, movies, musical compositions, plays, computer programs, and so on. In a nutshell, copyright protects any work that falls under musical, dramatic, literal, and artistic endeavors.

However, there is an important distinction to note regarding copyright: It protects creative expressions, but never ideas. This means methods, concepts, or systems can’t be copyrighted. Hence, a food recipe cannot be copyrighted, unless it’s accompanied by a considerable literal expression, say in the form of directions, explanations, and annotations. In that regard, a cookbook makes a compelling case for copyright protection.

Owning a copyright grants you the right to reproduce the artistic expression and make derivative works from it; for instance, producing a movie based on a novel. A copyright lasts for the duration of the owner’s lifetime, plus an additional 70 years after their death.

While registration isn’t a prerequisite for holding a copyright, it’s required if you want to sue for copyright infringement.

What Is a Trademark?

A trademark is a legal mechanism used to protect intellectual property such as logos, brand names, slogans, and anything used to identify a business and/or its goods and services. Therefore, a trademark helps build a reputation because it associates a brand with a level of quality that the consumers and the general public come to expect.

Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks can last in perpetuity, so long as its continuously used by the business and renewed every ten years.

What Is a Trade Secret?

A trade secret typically constitutes a formula, recipe, or compilation of data that grants a business a competitive advantage. Until quite recently, trade secrets were predominantly covered by state law. But most states have now adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which has federal jurisdiction.

However, not every business secret can qualify as a trade secret. To be designated as a trade secret, the information must fulfill the following requirements:

  • The secret must be commercially valuable, not just confidential.
  • The knowledge or information must be known to only a small group of people.
  • The business must undertake appropriate measures to safeguard and protect it. 

Trade secrets are primarily protected by compelling parties to sign confidential nondisclosure agreements and providing stringent physical and digital security as a means of protection.

A trade secret is violated when its confidential information is disclosed, acquired, or used unauthorized outside the confines of honest commercial activity.

How Much Does Intellectual Property Crime Theft Cost?

According to the Report of the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property (also known as the IP Commission Report), the impact of IP theft on the U.S. economy is over $300 billion annually.

However, IP loss is difficult to accurately quantify because it largely remains in the shadows, unlike customer credit card and personally identifiable information (PII) theft that has to be reported.

Moreover, IP loss is unlike other property losses that can be recouped through insurance. Ultimately, IP loss makes both the companies and nations that are victims less competitive.

How Does Intellectual Property Enforcement and Loss Mitigation Work?

Settling on the best way to protect your IP isn’t always a straightforward process, especially with highly technical and complex domains.

For instance, when seeking IP protection for a software application or software artifice, patents and copyright are typically the way to safeguard its algorithms and program code. However, when it comes to marketing the software, trademark protection should be applied to the marketing and design materials used.

Therefore, in order to be successful, IP enforcement and loss mitigation have to follow a multifaceted approach. This entails applying the right IP protection type to the appropriate asset while applying best practices to ensure protection becomes an organization-wide culture.

Best Practices and Tips for Protecting Intellectual Property

The following guidelines will position your organization to incorporate IP protection into its DNA.

Perform an Effective IP Audit

If you can’t measure or quantify your IP assets, then you can’t adequately manage, improve, or protect them. A comprehensive IP audit enables an organization to discover its IP assets.

Conducting an IP audit allows an organization to gain both visibility and understanding of the range of IP assets in its custody. In addition to cataloging all its owned IP possessions, the process also allows the company to uncover patents, trademarks, and copyrights that haven’t been registered or licensed.

Apply Proper IP Protections

The next step after the organization has located and identified its catalog of IP assets is to evaluate whether the appropriate legal protection covers them. This means evaluating whether it’s in the best interest of the business to file for a patent or shield their innovation’s inner workings with a trade secret.

This is because filing a patent compels you to publicly disclose the “recipe” of how the invention or innovation was created. Once this information is public, others can use this knowledge to create their own product or service while ingeniously finding ways to circumvent your IP.

However, in the absence of filing a patent, the onus lies on the company to protect the innovation as a trade secret. This requires implementing internal security protocols to ensure confidential information is kept protected and secure.

Maximize the Benefit of Your IP Through Standardization

Seeking to standardize your IP with a standards-setting organization (SSO) not only helps create wide adoption of the patented technology but also opens up more income streams for the innovation, especially in the form of royalties.

In addition, standardization creates an entry barrier that dissuades others from competing against the product.

Open-Sourcing the IP Product

A corollary to standardization is taking the counterintuitive route of open-sourcing a product. This is because open-source allows a product or service to tap into an often devoted, broad community of contributors, developers, and activists.

Therefore, our secure collaboration functionality can reap the disproportionate benefit of free labor from the public’s contributions. Meanwhile, this allows its creators to focus on extending the added value provided to their proprietary technology stack.

Establish Internal Guidelines, Policies, and Procedures

Companies should enact company-wide policies and procedures that educate employees on how to properly navigate IP assets. These written policies should cover the creation, use, acquisition, and enforcement of IP assets within the organization.

They should outline the security procedures to ensure IP innovations, including new products and services are kept confidential.  

Embrace Standardized Agreements

Companies should avail themselves of the toolkits that can preempt the divulgence of IP confidentiality. The most common involve employee and vendor nondisclosure agreements, especially when sharing confidential information in the course of legitimate business transactions.

Others include licensing and technology transfer agreements that spell out the parameters around which other parties can legitimately use their IP.

How Does Digital Rights Management Help Protect and Enforce Intellectual Property Rights?

Digital rights management helps content owners to exert control over how their creations are used. The technology provides companies and IP owners with a holistic solution to protect their assets in the following ways:

  • DRM can stop copyrighted content from being copied, modified, printed, rebranded, or scanned without authorization.
  • DRM can limit the number of times a content or asset can be accessed or used.
  • DRM technology uses high-grade encryption mechanisms to protect IP, whether at rest or in transit, from unauthorized access.
  • DRM provides strong identity access control and management to enforce the appropriate permissions and rights.
  • By restricting access to copyrighted material, DRM encourages distributors and vendors to pursue licensing agreements.
  • Through techniques such as dynamic watermarking, DRM enables you to identify the source of piracy and illegal distribution. 

How Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration Can Help Prevent and Protect You from Intellectual Property Theft

IP protection is a business-critical task that’s nonetheless complex and challenging. Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration’s DRM capabilities and data-centric approach to information rights management (IRM) security are well suited to meeting the problematic task of enterprise IP protection.

To learn more about data security, read our Definitive Guide to Data Security.

Tags:  Secure Collaboration

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