Your inventions and market innovations; your brand and the goodwill associated with it; the secrets that give you a competitive edge; and your creative and professional employees are all critical intellectual property assets. When protecting these assets, it is vital to take a comprehensive and proactive approach to the identification, acquisition, protection, management, and commercialization of intellectual property assets for both established and emerging companies.
How do you protect your patents?
You can protect your products through copyrights, patents, trademarks, and more. Part of your strategy should be to consult an experienced intellectual property attorney.
Non-Disclosure and Employee Confidential Information Agreements
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are your first line of defense when it comes to sharing your IP internally and externally. Often, your employees, investors, and prospective buyers can all potentially come across methods, ideas, and products that are unique to your business before you’ve had the chance to file or finalize a patent. Requiring your employees and other stakeholders to sign an NDA or employee confidential information agreement can serve as a deterrent and often valuable legal protection against anyone running off with your valuable IP and copying or reselling it.
Utility & Design Patents
A utility patent covers what a product does and the creation of a new or improved product, process or machine. Utility patents focus on “how it works”. A design patent, however, covers the ornamental features of the article and “how it looks”. Utility patents generally take more time and cost more to file, but the patents last longer than design patents.
How Utility Patents Work
Utility patents last for 20 years. When filing, they require a thorough explanation of how the article works. The inventor should discuss alternative ways to make the invention and provide enough detail so that another person in the same field could readily reproduce the results. If someone else makes, uses, or sells exactly what is described in the patent claim, then they are infringing the inventor’s patent.
How Design Patents Work
We view design patents as the “gold standard” for protecting designs in the United States. Design patents last for 15 years and they can be used to stop the import of infringing articles at the border. There’s also no intent requirement for infringement. If someone else is infringing your patent, you can stop them whether or not they know about it. This makes design patents a powerful tool against copycats.
Obtaining Copyright Registrations
If you’re putting your design articles out into the marketplace, you should seriously consider building a portfolio of copyright registrations. Copyright registrations are not expensive and you’ll receive powerful remedies against infringement upon obtaining one.
If you have to sue someone for infringing upon your registered copyright and you win, you will get attorney fees paid for and in addition to any harm you can recover for, you will get statutory damages – which is damages without proof of harm. These are powerful remedies to block copiers.
International Treaty for Design Patent Protection
Other countries have copyrights and design patents. In fact, now there is an international treaty that allows you to file a single design patent application. This application can serve as your design patent application throughout the world. This makes it exponentially easier to get design patent protection around the world.
Statutory Design Registration
One valuable protection measure is statutory design registration. It is a form of intellectual property protection that is available in most countries outside the United States. Typically, they are inexpensive to obtain, there is no substantive examination, and they last from anywhere between 10 and 25 years. If you are selling or manufacturing your products in another country, a statutory design registration provides you with a powerful, international remedy against copycats in the target country.
To conclude, if the design of your product contributes to its appeal in the marketplace, you should consider building an intellectual property protection portfolio to protect your product and your business against copycats. If you plan to conduct business overseas, take a look at statutory design registrations and in the U.S. you should consider design patents.
No matter which path you decide to pursue with your product and business, consider copyright registrations as part of your strategy.