When you work hard to develop innovative ideas, you want to protect them. In fact, there’s a good chance your ideas may be the most valuable part of your business.
As Forbes noted a few years back, intellectual property (IP) accounts for more than 80% of the worth of U.S. public companies. As of 2015, tangible assets represented only 16% of their value. That’s an astonishing turn, considering that tangible assets represented more than 80% of all business value just a few decades back. It also illustrates how important it can be to protect your IP. So, here are five things to consider as you decide how to defend your IP.
What property can you protect?
There are four main types of intellectual property protected by law. They include:
- Patents for new inventions or processes
- Copyrights for creative works such as songs, films, books or novel arrangements of existing materials
- Trademarks for distinctive symbols, words or other marks—or combinations thereof—closely associated with a brand
- Trade secrets that provide your business a competitive edge and that you guard closely
You can register your patents, copyrights and trademarks to gain the protections afforded by the law. You do not need to register your trade secrets. But you do need to take reasonable measures to keep them secret, and you want to make sure the steps you take meet the standards set by both Colorado and federal law.
Notably, if you do business overseas, or your product sells into other markets, you may need to secure your IP rights in each separate market.
How do you sue for an IP violation?
Generally, you must take three steps to successfully convince a court that someone has stolen your intellectual property:
- Demonstrate that you have the rights to the patented, copyrighted or trademarked materials—or that you have taken the appropriate steps to protect your trade secrets
- Show how the other party has infringed upon your IP rights, typically by illustrating the similarities between their materials and yours
- Show how the infringement has damaged your business
Because IP lawsuits may hinge upon highly technical and specific distinctions, they often require an extremely detailed understanding of both the IP and the law.
If other parties have infringed upon your IP rights in more than one market, you may need to file actions with more than one court.
Can you act early to stop the bleeding?
It can take a long time to bring an IP case to trial and win it outright, so businesses commonly look for steps they can take before they’ve fully resolved their case. Two common options include:
- Preliminary injunctions may place an immediate halt on the other party’s continued infringement—or alleged infringement—of your IP
- A settlement can often lead to speedier resolutions and may still satisfy your interest in the case
Importantly, if you consider settling, you want to make sure the settlement is drafted in such a way as to protect your future interests. Also, you may reach a more favorable settlement if you approach it as though you were ready to take your case to trial.
What can you do to prevent future litigation?
You may not be able to stop others from stealing your IP, but you can take steps to strengthen your rights and to limit your exposure. Depending on your industry, the different experts who spoke with Forbes recommended:
- Running lean and focusing on continual innovation, with the idea that if you’re always moving, the competitors who catch up to your old ideas are still lagging behind
- Publicizing your IP—with attribution—so that you have myriad references to your work in the public domain
- Drafting strong contracts, such as non-disclosure agreements
Especially when you work in an emerging market, you want to consider the role your IP plays in your business.
Secure your IP rights
If your intellectual property could represent 80% or more of the value of your business, you can’t afford to leave your IP rights unprotected. You want to secure your rights. And if you recognize an infringement, you want to act quickly to minimize the damage.