2021-02-24

Do you know your (IP) rights?

IP without Jargon By Todd Bailey, Scale AI* (5 minute read) - February 15, 2021

Generating value in today’s digital world is easier than ever. So is copying and stealing.

But you can reduce the risks by protecting your IP (intellectual property). Although information about IP is everywhere, Scale AI wants to help you transform IP information into IP action. In this blog, IP without Jargon, we’re unpacking IP concepts, debunking IP myths and, along the way, throwing in some IP terminology [in square brackets] to help you learn the lingo. Let’s go.

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Do you know your (IP) rights?

Motorola invests heavily in R&D to bring new technology to customers.  So, when a rival began hiring ex-Motorola employees and launched a competing digital walkie-talkie product, Motorola felt it had to act.   

But Motorola didn’t start a patent lawsuit.  Or a trade secret lawsuit.  Or a copyright lawsuit.  Motorola started all three.   Patents covered Motorola’s component features, copyrights covered its software code, and trade secrets protected information about its hands-free, location and alarm technologies.

Motorola’s layered approach paid off, as the court issued a several-hundred-million-dollar judgment in its favour.  Multiple layers of IP protection not only increased Motorola’s chances for success, but probably also increased the size of the court award.  

That’s why so many savvy businesses protect their important IP in multiple ways.  When it comes to protecting your IP, being an over-achiever has clear benefits.

Previously, we uncovered an urgent need to act before you disclose or use your IP. We also discovered that “IP” is just another term for the ideas, information and data we want to protect.

But how do we actually protect them?

IP vs IP Rights.

If you think of IP as the good stuff you want to protect (the ideas, information or data), then IP rights are the legal measures available to protect them.   IP rights include proprietary information rights, trade secret rights, copyrights, patents, industrial designs, trademarks and even contract rights.

Let’s take a quick peek at the IP rights options and the kinds of IP each protects.  In future posts, we’ll dive into more detail on each.

IP Myth: If I don’t have any patents, I don’t have any IP.

IP Fact:  Every business has tons of IP, even if it has no patents.

Information & Data.

Trade secrets, professional secrets, proprietary information and confidential information can protect non-public information and data.  These terms all have basically the same rules.

What they protect: non-public information or data, such as unpublished software code, datasets, technical specs, requirements documents, business plans, or customer lists.

How they work: you’ve known since elementary school how to protect a secret – don’t tell anyone unless they need to know.  In business, there’s a few more steps, but you get the idea.  We’ll address those in my next post.

Patents.

The best-known IP right is also the most misunderstood. A patent is sort of like a veto right that allows you to stop others from making or commercializing the patented invention without your permission.

IP Myth: Patents are only useful for starting lawsuits.

IP Fact: Patents can improve company valuation, drive customer interest, improve your public image as innovative, and provide a counterpunch if you are sued.

What patents protect: a new or improved:

How patents work:  You must file for a patent in each country where you want protection.  Patents last up to 20 years.

Copyright.

Can prevent unauthorized copying and other misuses of the protected material [work].

What copyright protects:

  • written material [literary works], such as website text or software code,
  • images or graphic designs [artistic works], such as photographs or artwork, and
  • movies, videos and music [audiovisual works].

How copyrights work: Unlike other IP rights, copyright just happens – it’s created automatically when the material [work] is created.

Industrial Designs.

Possibly the least-known IP right.  Like the patent, it also provides a veto-like right to stop others from making or commercializing the protected design.  In some countries, it is called a “design patent” or “design protection”.

What industrial designs protect:  the decorative appearance of a functional article (real or digital), such as a new shape for a smartphone case or a charger for a fitness tracker, or a new appearance for a graphical user interface (GUI).

How industrial designs work:  You must file in each country where you want protection. Lasts between 10 to 14 years depending on the country.

Trademarks.

Tim Horton’s, Lululemon, Slack. Besides being successful businesses, these are also very well-known trademarks. It’s a name, logo or other identifier that sets your brand apart in the marketplace.

IP Myth: Registering a business name protects it from competitors.

IP Fact: Only trademark protection can prevent others from using a similar name in the marketplace. Just registering your business or corporation name won’t do that.

What trademarks protect:

  • a product or service name [word mark], like 1PASSWORD,
  • a brand’s logo or design feature [design mark], like the October’s Very Own OWL DESIGN, or
  • a combination of words and logo [combined mark], like UBISOFT & DESIGN.

How trademarks work:  You can use a trademark without registering [unregistered trademark], but registering your trademark provides much stronger protection [registered trademark].

Next Steps.

Regardless of the type of IP you have and use in your business, what’s most important is that you can identify what IP is essential to your business.  Although that sounds like a simple task, it’s not always the case.   The more you look carefully at your business, the more IP you’ll start to see.

Now that we’ve scratched the surface, in my next post we’ll start checking out the pros, cons and essential info you need to put each IP right to work for you.

Key takeaways.

  • IP = any idea, information or data you want to protect.
  • IP right = a legal way to protect IP.
  • Secrets (trade secrets, confidential or proprietary) protect non-public information or data.
  • Patents protect new or improved methods, physical things or compounds.
  • Copyright protects software and other material that is publicly released.
  • Industrial designs protect new decorative design features of functional articles.
  • Trademarks protect names, logos and other brand identifiers.

*Todd is Chief IP Officer at Scale AI, and a lawyer, patent agent and IP strategist with 25 years’ experience helping startups, SMEs and multinationals protect and commercialize their IP.

Please Note: Concepts discussed here have been simplified to facilitate learning. You should consult a qualified IP lawyer or agent to discuss your unique IP needs. Protecting your IP should not be a do-it-yourself project.

Scale AI is Canada’s AI Supercluster, investing in AI supply chain projects, acceleration and talent development across Canada. Visit us at www.scaleai.ca to see how we can help your business grow.

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