What You Should Know about Intellectual Property

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What You Should Know about Intellectual Property

Modern technology has made it so much easier to get your materials out to the public. But just as it’s easier to share, it’s also easier to steal. Just because someone can reproduce what you make doesn’t mean it’s legal for them to do so. That’s why it’s important to know the laws and protect yourself and your creations.

Intellectual property is anything that comes out of your head, whether it be an idea, writing, art, or a picture. Intellectual property usually can be divided into four categories. Here’s a quick breakdown of exactly what they mean.

Copyright – A copyright protects tangible items that are produced by the imagination, such as books, songs, and even computer software. Anything you create is under copyright protection the moment it’s created and fixed in a tangible form. But to receive additional legal protection, you must apply for a copyright from the U.S. Copyright Office. This requires you to fill out forms, pay a fee, and provide a copy of the work you created. Courts can impose severe financial penalties if a copyright is violated.

Trademark – A trademark protects names and logos that identify a specific brand. This keeps consumers from getting confused about two products. While many things can be trademarked, general terms and images cannot. You can apply for local trademark protection through your state, and you can get better protection federally.

Patent – Patents protect inventions and processes that someone creates. This prevents other people from making the same product. A patent generally lasts 20 years, but it can take a long time to receive one. The application process is more extensive than a copyright or a trademark and includes a detailed description of how to make the item. A patent also gives you the ability to sell the right to produce the item you’ve patented.

Trade Secrets – Trade secrets are things a business must keep secret in order to succeed. It might be a secret recipe or how a product is made. Whether or not something can be protected as a trade secret is decided in court and is based on a variety of factors. There isn’t a time limit to this kind of protection, but it can be voided if information is revealed to others.

Just because something fits into one category, doesn’t mean it can’t fit into another. They often overlap, which can make it more difficult to protect yourself and your intellectual property. Knowing your rights is the first step. Taking appropriate measures to protect your content will lead you in the right direction.

Do you know the laws to protect yourself and your creations? Intellectual property falls into four categories. Here’s a breakdown of what each means.

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