Sunday, November 25, 2007
Coyrights, Trademarks, Trade Secrets, Patents? What's the Big Deal with IP?
Intellectual Property (IP) is an incredibly important part of your company, especially if you're a software/IT company. It can play a factor in almost every conceivable aspect. I won't really go into it yet, but it's important when you are raising money (investors are very interested in IP when they give you money), defending your own technology, or selling your company. What I will go into in this post is the process for determining the different types of IP your are interested in protecting.
I didn't have much experience, personally, with IP before starting this company, so this is all new hat to me.
The first thing to understand is the difference between copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents. This will help you determine what is right for you.
Copyrights generally involve the protection of literary works such as poems, books, music, etc.
Trademarks are distinguishable words or names for your business or services that you offer (McDonald's, Coca Cola, etc).
A trade secret is information that is valuable to your business where you have made an attempt to keep that information secret. In addition, were that information to be released, you would suffer material losses. Some examples of trade secrets are Coca Cola's formula and Google's search algorithm.
Patents are basically rights to an invention granted to you by the Patent and Trademark office that generally last for a set amount of time. Though pharma patents tend to be dealt with differently, generally a drug company has the right to sell and market their drugs for a period of years before another company can begin to sell generics of the same chemical combinations.
One things to keep in mind when deciding whether your idea is a trade secret or a patent is to determine whether making your idea public will help or hurt your company. If you file a patent, everything becomes public knowledge. Google would have to file their algorithm with the patent office to receive patent protection. That would probably not be a wise move for obvious reasons. Same with Coca Cola's formula.
We actually are dealing with several different IP issues. One is a copyright issue and the other is a patent issue. I won't be discussing the copyright material because it hasn't been fully developed yet. I will discuss the patent process in the next post, because that's what I've been researching now.