How to Protect Your Intellectual Property

How to Protect Your Intellectual Property

by Joe Runge, Esq., May 2015

The exclusive rights given by intellectual property protection allows creators to make their works available to the public. If anyone takes their creation without permission, intellectual property protection laws give creators a way to remedy the case.

There are many different forms of intellectual property protection, but the vast majority fall into three categories: copyright, patents and trademarks. Any intellectual property lawyer will be able to help you seek protection under these intellectual property laws. The first step to protect your intellectual property is to recognize which of the three categories best protects your intellectual property.

Your answer may be all three. Protecting intellectual property completely requires you to recognize all possible protection because the same work can be protected in multiple ways.

Copyright

Copyright gives you the right to exclude others from copying your works. Copyright protects many different things: from modern sculpture to instructions on a shampoo bottle. For example, over the course of a year you write a computer program that helps personal navigation systems find optimal routes using algorithms that you created. The code that you write, like any written work, is your intellectual property. You can prevent others from making copies without your protection.

Your copyright to your code exists the second you type the text. If someone hacks your email and steals it off your shared drive then (in addition to other criminal behavior) they have infringed your copyright. If someone, independently from you, writes the exact same code without copying you then they are not infringing your copyright.

Copyright only allows you to exclude others from copying your work. You have no remedy if someone writes the same code independently. You can, however, make your copyright a bit more enforceable.

Even though your copyright exists the moment you complete your work you can go further and register your copyright with the Library of Congress. Registration puts the world on notice: this work is mine and everyone knows it exists. Copyright registration makes it very, very difficult for another person to claim they independently created the same work.
Registering your navigation program, however, may not be the best idea. Registration requires you to deposit a copy with the library of congress. In the case of your navigation software, other programmers may be able to reverse-engineer your algorithms from your source code. Copyright protects the particular expression of an idea, not the idea itself.

Your algorithms are a series of steps that your code instructs the computer to carry out. Your copyright protects the specific way you tell the computer to execute those steps. If some other programmer coded a different program to carry out those same steps then that program would not necessarily infringe your copyright. If you want to protect the algorithms themselves then you need something more than the copyright.

Patent

A patent gives you the right to exclude others from making, selling or otherwise using your invention. Patents provide the most specific and enforceable intellectual property rights but they also come at great expense. Patent protection exists for new processes, machines, materials or combinations. To get a patent that you can enforce, you have to prove to a patent examiner that your invention is completely novel, that no one has ever had the exact same idea.

In the case of your algorithms, you will need to show that no one has ever thought of the same steps, in the same order as your algorithm. Very abstract inventions, like mathematical formulas or algorithms, can be difficult to patent. It will always help your application if you keep it grounded. Make sure to discuss your invention in the context of application: show how your product helps others.

In the case of your program, you can protect the specific code that you used to make it but also protect what the basic approach that the algorithm takes. Not only will you prevent competitors from copying your code, but you will prevent competitors from using the same kind of algorithm to make competing products. Do not stop there, however, more protection is likely available.

Trademark

Your algorithm works by breaking up the distance between two points into a series of smaller routes. It then optimizes the smaller routes to create the shortest distance between two points. When users use the program, they see the shorter routes link together to navigate the user - like a chain of daisies.

You call the app Daisy Chain and the animated linking of smaller routes becomes a very distinctive part your product.

In addition to the technical innovation you protected with copyrights and patents, you can also protect the way in which users identify your products. A trademark is a word, phrase or picture that identifies the source of your goods. Just as authors are allowed to exclude others from their works, businesses are allowed to exclude others from using their trademarks. Daisy Chain for navigation software is your trademark so protect it.

You can protect the name ‘Daisy Chain’ for navigation software and even the appearance of the linking chain animation you use in your app. If a competitor that did not use your technology but created an interface that looked like smaller routes linking together you could assert your trademark against them.

Intellectual property is a critical asset for every 21st century business. To get value out of intellectual property, you need to be able to identify intellectual property and act to protect it. Understanding how patents, trademarks and copyrights protect intellectual property is the critical first step.

Protect your intellectual property by registering a trademark or copyright, or filing for a patent with LegalZoom. LegalZoom will help with the details of protecting your intellectual property so you can spend time doing what matters to you most.