Did you know that fried-chicken chain (and social media marketing superstar) KFC follows only 11 accounts on Twitter? Six of those are men named Herb; the other five are the former Spice Girls. It's a clever nod to the company's famous trade secret, its tightly guarded chicken-seasoning blend comprising 11 herbs and spices.
Trade secrets are one type of intellectual property (others include copyright, trademarks, and patents). What is intellectual property (IP)? How do you know if you or your company have any? And what steps can you take to safeguard it? Read on for a brief primer.
The Types of Intellectual Property
Intellectual property encompasses ideas and inventions—as opposed to so-called "real" property, which refers to actual tangible goods such as a 25,000-acre Montana ranch, the Hope Diamond, a 1959 Fender Telecaster, a food truck, or a basketball signed by Shaq. Some examples of IP are:
- Copyright protects creations like literary, musical, or artistic works
- Patents are issued to protect new inventions from being freely copied by people other than the inventor
- Trademarks include symbols, designs, names, slogans, and pictures
In many cases, it's apparent which type is most appropriate for your particular circumstance, but there are some gray areas, too. An attorney can help you sort those out and proceed with confidence.
The Purpose of IP
Intellectual property laws prevent people from profiting or benefitting from another person's creations. For example, a restauranteur cannot advertise her hamburger joint by painting a yellow, arch-shaped letter M on its sign; that would be too similar to the trademark-protected "Golden Arches" of McDonald's.
IP Is More Important Than You May Think
It's not necessary to have a secret formula like Coca-Cola, a splashy brand like Tesla, or an iconic logo that's instantly recognizable, like the Starbucks mermaid or the Target bullseye, to require intellectual property protection.
If your business has a name, a symbol, an emblem, a color scheme, or anything else that identifies your brand, you should seek the appropriate type of IP security. This can be a confusing legal realm, so it's best to secure the services of an attorney who specializes in IP law.
Two Distinct Benefits of IP
Embarking upon the process of protecting your ideas and creations is necessary for two reasons. First, it will ensure that you're not stepping on any intellectual property toes. It can be a costly nightmare if you inadvertently begin to do business while infringing on another party's IP, even if it's an honest mistake.
Of course, making certain you're all squared away in the eyes of intellectual property law will also safeguard you down the line. Should another firm, maker, or artist crop up and cause confusion with a slogan or logo that's similar to yours, you will have due recourse.
Safeguarding intellectual property is an important, even crucial, facet of doing business. Creative products, inventions, and ideas have intrinsic value and must be protected from unscrupulous copycats. If you have any questions or want to get started on your own path to a patent, copyright, or trademark, get in touch today.