Own Your Brand: Intellectual Property Explained
Intellectual property is all around us. It’s the output of your creativity in so many forms. These forms can include your Instagram caption, your inspiring online course, your graphic designs, the photos that you take (or someone takes of you), and the incredible work that your team does, whether they’re an employee or independent contractor.
As a business owner you must understand what intellectual property rights you have, so you can protect it. Intellectual property rights are literally rights to your property. It’s something that you own, like any other asset.
Now, there are three types of intellectual property that I’d like to emphasize in this blog. These are patents, trademarks, and copyright. You may have heard about them before but maybe you aren’t sure how they apply to your business. Here’s an overview of each below:
Patents are all about innovation. They protect new, useful, and non obvious products, compositions, machines, processes, or improvements on any of these that I just named. It protects not only how it works, how it does it, what it’s made of, and how it’s made. It’s really about creating (and maintaining) a competitive advantage.
If you own a patent, you’ll have a competitive advantage for 20 years. However, I’m only giving you a brief overview of this intellectual property right. You’ll need to consult a patent attorney should you want to learn more and pursue one for your business.
Let’s now move on to trademarks. A trademark protects a company’s brand and identity. It can be your brand name, slogans, logos, designs, and any identifiers associated with your company. If you want to invest in building your brand reputation, you should file a federal trademark. It’s because you’re actually not able to rely on having the Instagram handle, the domain name, or even the LLC filed in your state without a trademark.
It’s not until you have a federally registered trademark that you’re deemed to have given all other businesses “constructive notice,” which means whether they knew or didn’t know, you don’t have to prove that they knew (you get to skip this step) because everyone is made aware constructively by your registration alone, that your business in your particular products or services has an exclusive right to use the brand and the identity that you’ve worked so hard to create.
Intellectual property rights come with responsibilities. When you own a federal trademark, you must protect it. That means you’ll be the one sending out cease and desists (as needed) and continuously ensuring that no one else is using your registered trademark. You need to prevent consumers from confusing you with another business that has adopted a brand that’s “confusingly similar” to yours.
Now, I don’t want to assume that this is the case, but it has happened quite frequently — you may be unknowingly infringing on someone else’s mark. There’s a lot of great ideas out there. And I’m not assuming that you were aware and created a brand similar or inspired by somebody else’s. However, the legal standard of “confusingly similar” still remains.
It’s important to do your due diligence before you launch a brand, rebrand, or make big scary investments (if you don’t have a federally registered trademark yet). What I’m trying to tell you is the time hasn’t passed — if you haven’t done it yet, take a moment today to go to the uspto.gov website and do a basic name search, not only for exactly the way you spell your name, but any spelling that it could be confused with. If it sounds like something else, or you know that there’s another spelling, try those out, too. After all, it’s going to give you some peace of mind to know that somebody doesn’t already have a federally registered trademark.
Like I mentioned, a professional can do a comprehensive trademark search. Our team does them for clients all the time. The benefit of having our team complete is we do them in two weeks, which is much sooner than waiting to hear the initial response from the USPTO.
Did you know that whenever you create an original work that you automatically own copyright to that work? Like trademarks, you can federally register your copyright to provide constructive notice.
This means that you don’t have to prove that somebody who infringes on your copyright knew or should have known about your work. They’re just considered to have been given “constructive notice” when you have a registered copyright.
A copyright gives you the sole right to produce and reproduce a work, or substantial part of it. This means that you can protect the expression of your ideas in any fixed form—whether it’s an Instagram post, graphic design, online course, podcast episode, or any other literary or musical piece. In short, a copyright protects your original work and all actions associated with it.
Just think of the incredible impact you can have by honoring the value of your copyrights. You don’t only have the right to solely produce your work but also reproduce it anywhere.
Unfortunately we live in a culture where reposting and #inspo has somehow watered down our understanding of intellectual property rights.
But I want to encourage you to advocate for yourself. Because the audio you created for your podcast, the time and the emotions that you put behind sharing a life experience, or a piece of knowledge on an Instagram post — all of it matters. Your brand identity and original works —matter. The designs that you’ve released for merchandise — they matter. You need to advocate for yourself and your business. You need to protect your intellectual property rights.
I hope this article has helped you realize the importance of intellectual property so you can own your brand.