Your business’s intellectual property (IP) can be its most valuable asset. Customers buy your patented gadget because it is one of a kind.
Buyers look for your trademarked logo because they trust your products to be high quality. Or maybe you create books or music or video games, in which case your copyrights are vital to your financial success.
No matter which forms of intellectual property you rely on, you need to be aware of common intellectual property violations. Knowledge is your best defense.
“In the Information Age, intellectual property is the most important asset class for most businesses. For that reason, intellectual property should be protected just as much as money, equipment, or physical property.”Ashley Brewer, Trademarks and Brands Lawyer
Types of Intellectual Property
The four main types of intellectual property that your business can own include:
- Patents—under 35 U.S.C. § 271(a), a patent issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) gives the holder the right to exclude others throughout the United States from (1) making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention and (2) importing the invention into the United States.
- Trademarks—a trademark or service mark is any word, phrase, symbol, design, or combination thereof that identifies your goods or services and distinguishes you from your competitors in the marketplace.
- Copyrights—copyright protects an author’s or artist’s original works once they are fixed in a tangible form of expression and applies to things like books, articles, video games, song lyrics, scripts, photographs, computer programs, and artwork.
- Trade Secrets—trade secrets are formulas, methods, techniques, processes, or other information compilations that are kept secret by your company because they provide actual or potential economic value.
All of these forms of intellectual property must be proactively protected by the holder.
Intellectual Property Infringement
Intellectual property infringement means that someone has used your intellectual property without your permission, typically for a commercial purpose. This can have a devastating effect on your business. An intellectual property violation can result in:
- Profit loss to competitors who make knockoffs of your patented products or copyrighted material,
- Customer confusion and income loss when a competitor benefits from your trademark’s brand recognition,
- Brand dilution, and
- Permanent loss of trade secrets.
To minimize your losses, you must actively monitor the competition and act quickly to stop any infringing activity.
Examples of IP Violations
Some of the most common violations of intellectual property are accidental ones. But whether they are negligent or intentional, it is important to understand how to prevent or respond to these types of infringement.
Inadequate Trademark Search
Trademark infringement often occurs if a new company did not conduct the proper trademark searches before establishing its branding. As a result, it inadvertently uses a trademark confusingly similar to yours.
Unfortunately, having to change all of its logos, websites, and branding will be a costly mistake. That is why it is so important to obtain the assistance of counsel when forming your company. Understandably, it is an additional startup expense, but it is an important one.
Importation of Infringing Products
Another common intellectual property violation is the international importation of products that infringe your copyright, patent, or trademark rights. One way to fight this is by patenting your invention and federally registering your trademark with the USPTO or registering your copyright with the Copyright Office.
Once you register your trademark, you can record your registration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. They will then stop competitors from importing goods with infringing trademarks. Likewise, Section 1337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 prohibits the importation of products that infringe valid patents, federally registered trademarks, and federally registered copyrights. When you have federally protected your rights, you can seek swift relief from the International Trade Commission.
Infringement on Websites and Social Media Sites
Small businesses in particular also will find other websites or social media sites using their copyrighted or trademarked material. In the most glaring situations, a fraudulent website will mirror your site using a very similar domain name. When customers accidentally order from a fraudulent website, the money goes to the competitor, the product never ships, and your reputation is damaged.
In less egregious situations, another company may repost your company’s logo or copyrighted material without permission. Many people think that simply crediting the copyright holder absolves them of liability for copyright infringement. Not so. They must obtain the holder’s permission, which usually is issued in the form of a license.
To stop the infringement, the trademark or copyright holder must act quickly. First, contact the platform that hosts their website or social media site—examples include Shopify or Twitter—and request that they immediately take down the infringing content. By citing your federal registration, you can easily prove your ownership of this IP, making the process easier. Next, send a cease and desist letter to the infringer. If necessary, file a federal lawsuit.
Disclosure of Trade Secret
Business reality is that sometimes former employees take your trade secrets to their new employer. Thus, every business needs to have counsel prepare airtight nondisclosure and non-compete agreements for their employees.
BrewerLong Helps Businesses Protect Their Intellectual Property
BrewerLong takes a proactive approach to helping its clients by taking steps to protect trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and patents at the business formation stage. Then we advise you on how to monitor for an intellectual property violation and how to respond if one occurs.
Because we are a relationship-focused law firm, BrewerLong wants to make long-term plans with you and help your business grow. Our attorneys can provide the services you need, whether you are just starting or looking to expand. Contact us today.
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