Skip to main content

How to Protect Your Product Design: IP Law & Security Tools

by Chris Brook on Monday November 27, 2023

Contact Us
Free Demo
Chat

For many companies, patents, trademarks, and designs can be priceless, meaning if jeopardized, they could have far-ranging repercussions for owners. Protecting that IP is critical.

Intellectual property (IP) has a huge impact on an organization's competitive advantage and business opportunities. This is especially true during product design, a delicate stage where enterprise file and information sharing is ramped up while the product is yet to be fully assembled into finished capacity. 
 

As a result, companies must find ways to protect architectural and product designs. 
 

Organizations should maximize their ability to profit from their innovations by embracing IP law and cybersecurity tools to safeguard their product designs.

How Do I Protect My Product Design?

Organizations can protect and profit from their innovation by embracing IP law and existing cybersecurity tools. The extant law provides mechanisms such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and industrial rights, including those encompassing non-utility patents, such as design rights. 
 

To solidify proof of ownership, it is advised to protect your intellectual property before its publication. In addition to these legal precepts, organizations should also avail themselves of the opportunity that technology provides to safeguard their products from IP theft

What Intellectual Property Laws and Protections Can You Use?

A myriad of IP laws exist designed to protect various types of innovations, inventions, and scientific creations. So, by and large, protecting an IP product largely depends on the product type. 

What are patents, and how can I patent a design?

When people think of intellectual property protection, patents are typically the first thing that comes to mind. Patents protect new inventions by conferring an exclusive right to their owner for an extended period of time. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants patents that are valid for 20 years. 

 

In this section, we refer to utility patents, which protect the way a product is used and works, as opposed to design patents.

 

To be patentable, a product, process, design, or discovery must exhibit certain characteristics: 

  • Novel: The product must be new, uncharacteristic, uncommon, and exceptional.
  • Inventive and non-obviousness: The product or process must signify a non-obvious improvement of an existing product.
  • Usefulness and utility: Patentable products usually possess an industrial application, technical function, or have a technical effect. 

What are trademarks, and how can I trademark a design?

While patents deal with inventions in the form of products, processes, and scientific creations, trademarks deal with brands and brand identifiers such as their words, signs, symbols, and logos. 

 

While a business can have many brand identifiers, its principal ones are its name (for example, Coca-Cola) and logo (for instance, Nike’s famous “swoosh”). 

 

In the United States, a design can be trademarked by registering it with USPTO by the online Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). 

What are copyrights, and how do you copyright a design?

Copyrights don’t protect products or designs but original works of authorship. Hence, instead of dealing with inventors like patents, copyright is the province of artists, designers, and architects. It applies to literary works, musical composition, poetry, novels, and movies, including computer software and architecture. 
 

Unlike patents, which you must proactively register, copyright protection is applied to your work the moment it is created. However, copyright registration is highly recommended — to establish a public record, among other reasons.
 

Therefore, copyright comes freely and doesn’t need to be registered to be enforceable. An important distinction to make is that ideas and discoveries cannot be copyrighted; only their expression is subject to copyright. 

What are design rights, and how do they protect my design?

Design rights are not patents. However, since designs are commercially exploitable assets, they are legally protected by design rights. Design rights are focused on protecting the aesthetic rather than functional elements of a product. 
 

Like other patents, they must be novel (new), original, and non-obviously derived from other design products. Design patents encompass the ornamental features that give a product its distinct appearance and identifiable configuration. 

What is a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), and how does that protect my design?

An NDA is a legally binding or enforceable document between two or more parties to protect confidential information shared among them. It protects IP designs by requiring the parties involved to maintain utmost discretion, compelling them not to divulge, disseminate, or take advantage of information acquired under a partnership. 

 

Organizations routinely require employees, contractors, and partners to sign NDAs to protect product designs, trade secrets, and proprietary information. In addition to IP and copyright infringements, violating an NDA exposes the party to legal liability in the form of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary responsibility. 

What is a Non-Compete / Work-for-Hire agreement, and how does that protect my design?

In a non-compete/work-for-hire agreement, an employee or independent contractor is prohibited from competing with their employer for a certain period after leaving the organization or concluding the contract. 

 

There are several other facets to non-compete agreements. For instance, its clauses also stipulate that the departing individual not be permitted to work for their competitors during this duration. Or seek to obtain work with the organization’s clients and customers. Interfering with their right to work protects a company’s business interest after an employee has left the organization.

 

Non-compete agreements generally protect an organization’s customer base and institutional knowledge more than its IP. 

What other best practices can I follow to protect my design?

These best practices typically combine processes and policies with software tools and technological processes to enhance IP law protections. 

  • Prioritization and monitoring: This involves identifying, locating, and categorizing digital assets of IP value while providing in-depth visibility through granular monitoring.
  • Deploying identity asset management (IAM): This involves combining IAM and role-based access control to prevent unauthorized access and ensure IP is only exposed to people with the requisite rights, permissions, and privileges. 
  • Digital rights management (DRM): Applying DRM to comprehensively safeguard copyrighted material by applying access limits to users, devices, geolocations, and other communication vectors. This should be done with particular attention to information rights management (IRM), which is a subset of DRM focused on document security, not only digital media. 
  • Data loss prevention (DLP): To prevent the inadvertent leakage and willful exfiltration of sensitive information by monitoring corporate networks and endpoints. 
  • Use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) tools when uploading or downloading IP-laden files. This preserves the confidentiality and integrity of data by safeguarding against snooping, tampering, and man-in-the-middle attacks. 
  • CASB (Cloud Access Security Brokers): Cloud computing has become an integral part of an organization’s digital process. Therefore, organizations should leverage them to enforce security policies that ensure IP documents are protected beyond the traditional security perimeter. 

How can Digital Guardian / Fortra help?

Digital Guardian provides robust and sophisticated secure file-sharing capabilities to facilitate the collaboration required to create product designs. Through granular control, we ensure your sensitive information is protected throughout all the phases of the data lifecycle, whether at rest or in transit. 

 

To learn more, check out our secure collaboration product page or schedule a demo.
 

Tags:  Secure Collaboration

Chris Brook

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Digital Guardian’s Data Insider blog. He is a cybersecurity writer with nearly 15 years of experience reporting and writing about information security, attending infosec conferences like Black Hat and RSA, and interviewing hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian–acquired by Fortra in 2021–he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site that was a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.

Recommended Resources


The Definitive Guide to DLP

All the essential information you need about DLP in one eBook.

The Ultimate Guide to Data Protection

Everything you need to know about data protection but were afraid to ask.