Many online and eCommerce businesses recognize the value of their digital assets. In fact, their digital assets may be the primary source of value for their business. Operating a business in the digital marketplace, however, poses risks to these assets: they can easily be stolen or duplicated by other entities.
Fortunately, with the help of a legal expert, you can take advantage of Intellectual Property laws to protect your digital creations and business.
What is Intellectual Property Law?
Before discussing why your online business should be thinking about Intellectual Property Law and how to protect your digital assets, let’s review the basics.
The goal of Intellectual Property Law (IP) is to (1) protect industrial and creative property from being stolen, duplicated, and profited from by someone other than the owner and (2) encourage people to create and innovate. Intellectual property theft poses numerous consequences for a business, including loss of assets, loss of revenue, and marketplace confusion.
Understanding Intellectual Property protection requires an understanding of the following critical terms:
Copyright: These laws aim to protect “original works of authorship.” Owning the rights to a creative article allows you to display, distribute, create derivative work, and sell it at your discretion.
Trademark: A trademark can be words, phrases, or other symbolic indicators that allow you to identify a brand reasonably. If it is a source-identifier, it can be trademarked. There are four different degrees of protection: fanciful, suggestive, descriptive, and arbitrary.
Patents: A utility patent denotes ownership of processes, methodologies, and inventions and the owner’s right to sell, use, and distribute their discovery. However, a design patent protects an article’s ornamentation or visual qualities, NOT the product’s function.
Trade Secret: Internal secret information gives the business a competitive edge: processes, new products, etc. The goal of these laws is to encourage research and exploration.
How Do I Protect Digital Assets with Intellectual Property Law?
An online brand or eCommerce business is incredibly susceptible to having its creativity co-opted by other brands. The internet makes it easy for other brands to steal or copy your designs, branding, or different IP and make money from it. This isn’t a new story. In 2016, the popular store Zara came under intense scrutiny after it was accused of stealing and profiting from designs by artist Tuesday Bassen.
Your digital content is a valuable business asset and should be protected like any other asset. You can protect your designs and content by utilizing IP law and applying for patents and copyright protections. They will not only protect you from IP theft but also ensure you own and are not stealing IP from other businesses.
If you are publishing creative works, you should protect your ownership and ability to profit from your creative labors with copyright law. Acquiring copyright protection is not difficult. Foremost, the law dictates that all original creative works, from their inception, are protected under copyright law. Unlike patents, copyright isn’t concerned with the merit or value of the work.
You can also register copyrights, meaning that you can license and protect the usage of certain words and designs in particular markets. For example, a clothing brand may register a copyright for their brand name or a derivative of their brand name for clothing and textiles. This would protect their usage of the word in their IP from infringement and prove ownership.
Trademarks can protect established symbols of a brand. This process requires that the symbol be a recognizable token of the brand identity, including words, phrases, or other indicators like a logo. The goal of a trademark is to reduce confusion in the marketplace and protect consumers from businesses trying to capitalize on other businesses’ good reputations.
Trademarks are effective at protecting your brand’s digital assets and your brand’s assets generally from digital counterfeit. A great example of the utility of trademark can be observed in the litigation between TurboSquid, a website that offers digital models of physical, branded goods, and BMW. TurboSquid sold digital models of BMW cars that can be input into other digital content, like video games, movies, etc. BMW successfully alleged that the usage of their trademarked designs was causing confusion about the source of the models.
A design patent is another effective way of protecting your digital assets. For example, many UI/UX designers rely on design patents to protect their work. You cannot use design patents to protect graphic design or 2-dimensional visuals, but rather an end product. The end product a UI/UX designer is patenting is the aesthetic experience of using an app or website.
You can read more about the details of design patents in this previous post.
If you’re looking to protect your digital assets from theft or replication with IP laws, contact us today.