Protect Your Intellectual Property

Written by Marjorie Benbow
June 9, 2014

I love working with entrepreneurs who are champing at the bit to get their idea to the market and make money. While your ideas may be great, understanding how to protect them best is critical and increases their marketability and likelihood of your success in the marketplace. Consider this true story. Right after 9-11 a friend introduced American-made "Support Our Troops" items into the market that were distributed at a large retailer, smaller retail outlets and on-line. The influx of cash was great but it was short-term. Shortly, thereafter a huge retailer had foreign outsourcers make "Support Our Troops" items that were of poorer quality, less expensive and indistinguishable to the consumer. My friend saw the popularity of his idea continue in the market place but he was missing out on the revenues.

The old adage of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies to his idea and potentially to your ideas too. Understanding how best to protect your ideas before entering the market place is critical. There are several ways to protect your ideas, the property of your mind or 'intellectual property (IP). They include 1) Patents, 2) Trademarks, 3) Copyrights, and 4) trade secrets.

Patents are often used for inventions (e.g. light bulb). They are a federally granted right "to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States" for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

Trademarks and service marks are a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, that identify and distinguishes the source of the goods. Trademarks are used for goods and service marks for services.

Copyrights typically provide authors of original works of authorship (literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works, choreography, protection. Here the author basically has the right to prepare derivative works, distribute it and publish and perform it in public. The work does not have to be published to receive protection.

Think Coca Cola® for trade secrets. Here the recipe has been shrouded in secrecy for decades. Competitors have probably tried to reverse engineer 'Coke' to figure out the exact formula. Protection for the recipe with a trade secret is as good as the secret is kept and as long as the product / process is not figured out.

I wish my friend had contacted me before he launched his website or started to sell his "Support Our Troops" products in the market. When all the pirating started, he had to start behind the eight ball to prove the illegal copying. At a minimum, had he filed for copyright protection, it would have been easier, and cheaper to prove the infringement.

Contact an experienced attorney at Moretz & Skufca to begin protecting your intellectual property. Call us at 704-376-3030 or email us at info@moretzandskufca.com