Intellectual property can be a potential legal minefield for any product designer, developer or manufacturer. It was a difficult enough concept before the age of the Internet, but now, with ideas flying around all over the world and available seemingly at our fingertips, the need to protect what’s yours (and to make sure your concept, or parts of it, don’t belong to someone else already) is more pressing than ever before.
Despite the importance of establishing or being able to protect your intellectual property, it’s still a new frontier in many ways, and there are many myths and misconceptions that can trip up a new idea or product before it’s even launched.
Here are some of the biggest misunderstandings and mistakes designers and developers face when it comes to intellectual property.
Defining intellectual property
Some people may not be familiar with everything that the phrase “intellectual property” covers, so it’s important to establish that definition right off the bat. It refers to the results of a creation of the mind, whether that be inventions, artistic or literary works, designs, images, names or symbols.
If you have an understanding of that before wading into the world of IP, it helps you and your business or product in terms of preparation.
Patents, trademarks and copyrights
There are still a lot of misconceptions, especially among new entrepreneurs, about which is which when it comes to patents, trademarks and copyrights.
A patent gives the owners of an invention the right to prevent others from using that invention without permission.
A trademark is a larger concept than a patent, referring to words, logos, pictures, names, letters or numbers (or any combination thereof) that mark a certain brand in the marketplace.
A copyright, on the other hand, provides protection to the authors of literary or artistic works, like composers, artists and writers.
Protection doesn’t necessarily apply to an idea
The concept for an invention or a product, one that’s still in the inventor’s head as opposed to in the form of a tangible result, is not patentable or protected.
In fact, it’s only when there has been an execution of that idea in some form that it’s protectable under intellectual property laws.
That doesn’t mean it has to be a fully finished product. It can be the plans or the prototype or a rough version of the idea, as long as it’s been expressed in some form.
Think of it this way: How can a composer copyright a tune or a set of lyrics before he or she has written them down?
Businesses don’t automatically own the ideas created by employees or contractors
The misconception about what a company owns can be a pervasive one, especially if their employees have created a product.
It has to be explicitly stated in a business’ agreement with an employee or a contractor that any idea created during their employment will become the property of the company.
Without that specific statement, an entrepreneur could find themselves with limited or non-existent access to a great invention or product.
An intellectual property strategy cannot wait
Often, in the rush and chaos an entrepreneur can experience in the beginning of a venture, there are more tangible things they worry about rather than concentrating on possible intellectual property issues further down the line.
But in truth, formulating an IP strategy is one of the most important things any business can do, and it needs to be done in as quickly as possible. There are consultants and attorneys who specialize in IP issues, and it’s a good idea to hire them on before someone else does, someone who might be in a position to take advantage of your newly-created product’s lack of protection.
Pivot International has the tools to deal with intellectual property concerns all over the world, and we have the experience to help you protect your product. Find out more with a free consultation.