- January 23, 2024
- Kelvin Birk
- Business Law
When you come up with something creative – an idea, invention, logo or slogan, a unique way of doing things or process that you hope to turn into a profitable venture – the last thing you want is for someone else to come along, steal your idea, and develop or market it before you do. Fortunately, there are ways to protect intellectual property through legal methods such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks, which are intended to enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from their creations and protect them from infringement by others. An experienced intellectual property attorney can help by making sure everything is done properly to protect your ideas, as well as defend you if someone tries to steal and take advantage of your hard work and ingenuity.
Ways to Achieve Intellectual Property Protection
Recognizing the value of intellectual property and its vulnerability to theft, both the federal and Missouri state governments offer ways to protect intellectual property. Congress has created copyright, trademark, and patent laws that are currently administered through the U.S. Copyright Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
There are several ways to legally protect intellectual property, and you should utilize the one that best fits your individual situation. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office outlines four ways to protect intellectual property: patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.
A patent is an exclusive right which is granted for an invention, product, material, improvement on an existing technology, or process that generally provides a new way of doing something. When you get a U.S. patent, you are granted the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing your invention for a specific period of time. Patents are granted for something that is new, useful, and not obvious to other professionals in the field.
Patents provide rights for up to 20 years for inventions in the following categories:
- Utility patents – to protect useful products, processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter
- Design patents — to guard the unauthorized use of new, original, and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture
- Plant patents—to protect invented or discovered, asexually reproduced new plant varieties.
The purpose of a patent is to allow the patent holder to have monopoly power to profit from a successful invention for the period the patent is in effect.
A trademark us a recognizable insignia, phrase, word, or symbol that identifies a specific product as belonging to a specific company and differentiates it from all other products of its kind. Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services, and they help protect your brand from lawsuits by others with similar items.
A federal trademark lasts 10 years from the date of its registration, but it can be renewed for a potentially unlimited number of 10-year renewal terms, as long as the trademarks are being used in business and renewals are made in a timely manner.
A copyright is a form of protection found in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyrights protect the expression of an idea, but not the idea or subject matter of a work, from unauthorized duplication.
A copyright gives the owner exclusive right to:
- Reproduce the copyrighted work
- Create derivative works and distribute copies
- Perform and display the copyrighted work publicly.
The work does not have to be published in order to get copyright protection. You do not have to register your copyright, but registration offers additional protection. The Library of Congress registers copyrights, and the international minimum standard for the protection of copyright is the life of the author plus 50 years. In some situations, such as for works created by individual authors in 1978 or after, copyright protection is longer.
In Missouri, the registration of trademarks and service marks with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office secures certain rights and interests within the state. This is handled by the Corporations Section of Business Services.
Trade secrets are rights on confidential information that refers to the business ownership of a customer list, manufacturing process, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or other process that provides companies an advantage over their competitors. In general, a trade secret has three parts:
- the information that you wish to be kept secret
- economic value that results from not being generally known by others, and
- your efforts to protect this information and keep it secret.
As a member of the World Trade Organization, the U.S. government has a responsibility to protect trade secrets. The law offers limited protection from trade secret misappropriation, which is the unauthorized disclosure and use of the confidential information. Owners of the secret may receive royalties, damages, and court costs if someone uses the secret without authorization. Trade secret rights are allowed to be sold or licensed worldwide.
A strong contract can also protect intellectual property, as long as they are drawn up correctly and are enforceable in Missouri. Contracts should be clear and complete, put in writing, signed by all relevant parties, and be witnessed appropriately. Your business attorney can help you draw up contracts that may provide intellectual property protection by utilizing:
- Confidentiality clauses in agreements with vendors
- Non-compete and non-disclosure agreements with employees
- Licensing agreements for parties you wish to allow to use protected intellectual property.
Each of these methods of protecting intellectual property is designed for a specific situation and needs. Your business attorney can help you choose and use the one that best fits your individual intellectual property.
Get Help Protecting Your Intellectual Property
While attempting to protect valuable intellectual property, you do not have to take the chances of making costly mistakes and running into complicated problems by doing so on your own. Missouri business attorney Kelvin Birk has helped many entrepreneurs and owners manage legal issues related to protecting their businesses and intellectual property, and has received outstanding client testimonials from satisfied clients. Mr. Birk is both a lawyer and a Certified Public Accountant, which means he understands the law, accounting, and a myriad of financial issues that arise with running a business. He is fully prepared to help you protect the intellectual property and information that gives you a competitive edge.
When you have the Birk Law Firm working for you, we can:
- Handle initial filings and paperwork to obtain trademarks, patents, and copyrights
- Respond to any objections and denials
- Protect you in cases of infringement of your intellectual property.
To learn more about the legal services we provide and how we can help you, call the Birk Law Firm at 573-332-8585 for a free consultation.
Attorney Kelvin Birk
Kelvin Birk is a lawyer as well as a certified public accountant, with more than 30 years of experience in accounting and tax and business consulting, and more than 20 years of experience in numerous legal matters. This combined expertise allows our law firm to provide a level of service above that of other firms. Whatever your legal situation, your attorney at Birk Law Firm can counsel you as to the tax implications. We have experience in providing myriad legal representation services to residents of southeast Missouri and other areas.. [ Attorney Bio ]