Intellectual property is a valuable asset that business owners would be wise to protect. And this can require a great deal of time, money and resources to accomplish. This endeavor can be an especially significant investment when parties have international interests to consider.
Protecting intellectual property outside of the U.S. can be highly complicated. Still, it can be helpful for parties to have a general understanding of why international protection is essential and strategies to do so.
When is international IP protection necessary?
You must seek IP protection in countries where you are or plan to sell, manufacture or distribute your products or services.
Every international market has its own rules and regulations for IP. And other countries may or may not be members of several treaties regarding intellectual property, which can address factors including:
- Administrative procedures
- Special requirements
- Criminal procedures
- Use of intellectual property rights
- Application and registration
- Restrictions on specific marks and industrial properties
As such, depending on where you conduct business, you will want to understand what rights you have and how that specific country protects those IP rights.
Different rules for different types of IP
Another important consideration when it comes to international IP is what type of property you have to protect. As is the case in the United States, there are processes and rights that vary based on whether someone is seeking to secure a copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret.
- Copyrights: These protect works of authorship, like music, art and writing. Many countries agree to honor copyright protections secured in other countries, but not all territories are part of this agreement. Regardless, it can still be beneficial to register your copyright, even if it is not necessary to do so in order to have protection.
- Patents: If you have a patent for an invention in the U.S. and want to protect it overseas, you must also secure a patent in every country you wish to have protection. Again, there are different rules for different countries. They vary in terms of fees, processes and requirements to secure a patent. However, many countries are members of treaties that can streamline the filing process.
- Trademarks: A trademark is a word, design or symbol that identifies goods or services as belonging to you. Having a U.S. trademark will not grant you protection in other countries. You must register your trademark in any non-U.S. market in which you do business. In some cases, you can complete a single application that allows you to simultaneously apply for protection in dozens of other countries.
- Trade secrets: Protecting trade secrets, which include confidential information that holds value, in other countries will generally involve the same steps parties take to protect them here in the U.S. Parties can use contractual agreements, employment policies and various security measures to safeguard valuable proprietary information, though each of these should reflect the laws and policies of the country in which a party is seeking protection.
No matter what IP you have to protect, it can and likely will require action to ensure the work is secure in other regions.
Enforcing your rights abroad
If your business has IP protection in other countries and someone is infringing on those rights, it is essential to take steps to enforce them. Enforcement can result in:
- Stopping the infringer from misuse
- Collecting lost profits and other damages
- Criminal penalties for the infringing party
- Continued ownership and protection of IP
That said, international enforcement is a highly complex process for a variety of reasons.
Parties should expect to file a claim against an international party in the country where the infringement took place.
Further, parties may need to travel, and navigating a foreign legal system can be confusing and frustrating for those who are unfamiliar with that government.
Monitoring IP in other countries
Another aspect that parties can often struggle with when enforcing their IP rights is determining whether infringement has even occurred. Parties may misunderstand their rights in other markets or the specific protections they have, and it can be challenging to figure out who is responsible for the infringement.
Further, it is complicated enough to monitor the use and misuse of IP here in the U.S.; adding foreign markets to the list can make this that much more difficult.
Getting the help that you need to protect your IP in every country
Intellectual property is valuable and worth protecting. Businesses use copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets to give them a competitive edge or to make them identifiable to consumers in all markets.
These markets are growing, too. The ever-increasing availability of web sales and remote access means that conducting business is no longer restricted by where someone lives. And global operations are not just an option for giant corporations; more than half of small businesses have international customers.
Whether an IP owner is thinking about moving overseas or expanding their offerings to include international sales, protecting their inventions, secrets and other creative workers should be a priority.
While this task can seem stressful and overwhelming, know that there are numerous resources in place to help parties accomplish it. Attorneys, government websites and international agencies can all provide critical guidance and support to help people protect their intellectual property in every corner of the world.