In this article, we discuss Iowa intellectual property law and answer the following questions:
- What is intellectual property?
- What type of intellectual property do I have?
- How can I protect my intellectual property?
- What should I do if someone infringes on my intellectual property rights?
Big and small business is ripe with intellectual property cases. Probably one of the most well-known copyright infringement cases is that of the Recording Industry Association of America versus Napster. Napster allowed users to download songs for free versus buying CDs. However, the songs were the intellectual property of the record labels and artists, and by giving them away Napster was committing a fairly clear violation of intellectual property rights, but because it was in the early days of the internet it took some time for the law to ultimately catch up.
What Is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property refers to the original creations of an individual, group, business, or corporation, such as symbols, inventions, literary works of art, music, names, and methodologies that are likely to be used in business and trade. Intellectual property law is split into four categories: 1) copyright law, 2) patent law, 3) trademark law, and 4) Trade secret law. Understanding the difference between each category helps when determining if a legitimate legal claim exists and what type of intellectual property protection is appropriate.
What Type Of Intellectual Property Do I Have?
If you own a business of any kind, chances are you have at least a few categories of intellectual property you’ll want to keep safe:
- What is copyright? It’s probably easiest to think of copyright as any original work that is written down, recorded, or built. This includes poems, books, songs, music, works of art, movies, etc. Under the law, copyright owners have the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and perform or display their work. Copyright law allows original creators a lot of flexibility in how they utilize their property for commercial purposes. They can also sell or license their work to a third-party. Unlike trademarks, copyrights eventually expire and can be used by anyone, although this usually takes many, many years.
- What is a trademark? A trademark is a logo, symbol, phrase, word, or name used to identify and distinguish a product and company from its competitors. Imagine if you walked into a shoe store and instead of seeing the multitude of different logos to let you know what brand of shoe you’re trying on you were instead greeted with row after row of unidentifiable footwear products. Companies understand the power of trademarks and will fight tooth and nail to protect them. Brands are built around trademarks, which is why they never expire.
- What is a patent? A patent is a legal document that gives the inventor the exclusive right to monopolize an invention. The owner controls how the invention is used, sold, and manufactured. To be clear, a patent doesn’t have to be for a physical item, although many of us recognize the term “drug patent.” A patent can be for a procedure within an existing system, such as Amazon’s “1 click to buy,” patent. Without patent rights, the incentive to create new things would be severely diminished because no individual or company would want to the invest time and money only to have their invention immediately pilfered.
- What is a trade secret? Many companies require new employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to protect their company trade secrets. Trade secrets can be any piece of information, procedure, technology, data, etc, created by a company or individual.
How Can I Protect My Intellectual Property?
Understanding what type of intellectual property you have is the first step in identifying if you have a legitimate lawsuit on your hands. However, your primary goal as a creator or business should be to avoid the courtroom. Below are some steps you can take to protect your IP:
- Know what kind of IP you have and where that information is stored;
- Have a system for categorizing different types and levels of IP within your company;
- Make sure your IP is secured physically and digitally;
- Have a system for educating your employees about IP;
- Prioritize your intellectual property. Others are always looking for a quick leg up.
What Should I Do If Someone Infringes On My Intellectual Property Rights?
If you feel someone has infringed on your intellectual property rights you should immediately reach out to a qualified attorney. Even small IP issues can become big headaches if they are not dealt with in a timely manner. With small scale intellectual property issues, a simple cease and desist letter is often enough to remedy the problem.