According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, intellectual property rights allow the creators or owners of works that are patented, copyrighted or trademarked to benefit from their own work and/or their investment in a created work. They divide intellectual property into two categories: industrial property, which includes inventions and product and industrial designs; and copyright, which includes literary and artistic works – novels, poetry and plays as well as drawings, paintings, photography, sculpture and architectural designs.
Intellectual property rights and international protection measures have been in place since the 1880s. Many business owners might think they don’t have the time or money to protect their ideas. The truth is most small business owners can’t afford not to do so.
Securing the basic elements needed to protect your intellectual property is critical and doesn’t have to involve spending a lot of money. Trademarks and webaddresses can be researched and established without the help of a lawyer – the Small Business Administration is a good starting point. For some business owners, the time and money invested in developing a new idea make hiring a patent attorney to do a search (for similar products) and to file a patent application is a good business decision.
Trademarks protect the identity (recognition factor) of products and services. It is possible for an individual to file for a trademark using the directions provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The information is quite detailed, but studying it carefully pays dividends. If you see someone using a name that is similar to yours and you have a registered trademark, it is so much easier to claim your rights to that name.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act
Having a patent or trademark on a product doesn’t mean someone won’t try to steal the idea or the look of your product. The Internet has given rise to a worldwide host of counterfeiters who will happily steal the look and packaging of your new invention.
This is where registering a trade dress as well as a trademark on your invention pays off. A trade dress covers the appearance and packaging of a product, and falls within the protection provided by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
If – despite your efforts – you find imitations and cheap knockoffs of your product(s) online, there are steps you can take to close down a counterfeiter. Here’s what you can choose to do:
- Locate the counterfeiter’s website and check the hosting company information to find out who to contact regarding copyright infringement.
- Send a cease and desist letter to the counterfeiter.
- If the cease and desist letter doesn’t stop the counterfeiter, contact the hosting company where you found the offending site. This might mean corresponding with a large company like Google or Yahoo, or a smaller entity like the Etsy site, which is home to many art and craft ventures. Most will shut down counterfeiters’ sites if the evidence you provide is clear.
Although no preventative initiative can provide complete protection from unscrupulous business operators who steal ideas, knowing how to protect your intellectual property and challenge usurpers gives you what you need to fight back.