Inventing something can be incredibly fulfilling and exciting. Whether an inventor stumbles on their creation accidentally or it is the result of years of meticulous research and work, inventing anything is an accomplishment worth celebrating.
It is also something worth protecting. If you are an inventor, you should know how intellectual property can protect your rights.
4 Types of protection
Depending on what you invent, there are different ways to protect your ownership rights. You might secure:
- A patent
- A trademark
- Trade secrets
These vehicles protect inventions and other creative works by assigning ownership and restricting others from using the work in question unless they have authorization from the owner.
However, each of these types of intellectual property works in different ways to protect inventors or creators.
Examining the different strategies
One of the most common ways inventors can protect their rights is with a patent. A patent is the right to claim ownership of an invention, and it is granted by the government. To obtain one, the inventor must submit documentation of how their creation works and a description of what makes it novel. Thus, the work is not a secret.
A trademark identifies a symbol, image or expression as belonging to the owner. Trademarked materials are distinct and serve to protect the creator’s brand. It identifies the source of the service or product, ensuring others can recognize it as belonging to the business or individual.
Copyrights are intellectual property rights that allow owners of artistic, literary, musical or educational works of authorship to identify their materials and prevent others from reproducing them. The protection of a copyright exists as soon as the work is in a tangible form.
Trade secrets refer to information that gives a business or individual an advantage because it is not publicly known. It could be a secret recipe, a client list or a proprietary approach to marketing that has economic value. To protect these, parties must make a reasonable effort to keep them secret, which often includes utilizing tools like confidentiality agreements.
What rights do I have over my intellectual property?
If you have invented something, you should know what protection these different types of intellectual property offer.
Generally speaking, intellectual property rights give you, the inventor, the right to:
- Prevent others from copying your work
- Prevent others from selling your invention in other countries
- Generate revenue of protected work
- Create licensing agreements
- Increase the value of their business
- Control how their product looks
- Take legal action against parties using protected work without authorization
- Reap the financial benefits of commercialization
In addition, securing ownership of IP can also serve to recognize an inventor and reward them for their valuable contributions. And with some types of IP, like patents, it can expand knowledge and enable others to develop even more creations.
The bottom line is that IP rights give inventors control over who can use it and ensure they are the ones who benefit financially from it.
What do IP rights not protect?
Despite the long list of rights an inventor has through intellectual property, there are limitations.
The fair use doctrine allows people to use a limited amount of copyrighted materials without the creator’s approval.
If you want to protect your IP in other countries, you may need to seek additional protection through those jurisdictions. However, this process varies based on the type of protection you seek. If you want to secure a patent overseas, you will need to apply in each country. But you could secure trademark rights in several countries by filling out one application.
Additionally, your work must meet specific criteria to be eligible for protection. If your invention is not novel, you likely cannot secure a patent. If your creation is not in a tangible form, a copyright will not protect it.
Finally, understand that you can lose your IP rights. Copyrights generally expire 70 years after the author passes away. Some patents expire after 14 years. Owners of trade secrets lose their rights if they fail to take reasonable steps to keep the information confidential. Trademark rights can terminate when the work is no longer used commercially.
What happens if I don’t protect my invention?
Again, inventing something is an outstanding achievement. But if you do not take steps to secure a patent or other type of IP, your invention could lose any financial value it might have had. It could also wind up being used by people you would not want to use it or for purposes you do not support.
Thus, taking the time to develop an IP strategy and seek the appropriate type of protection can identify you as the inventor and preserve the integrity of your invention.
An invention may be the result of countless hours of work, education and inspiration. Seeing someone else misuse that work or profit off of it can be personally, professionally and financially devastating. You can prevent these losses by securing IP rights and enforcing them in cases of infringement.