Intellectual property is one of the key components of any company’s brand. Whether your business is brand new or you’ve been an established fixture in your industry for a number of years, you likely have a logo, product or other property upon which your business’s image—and perhaps even your livelihood—depends. Discovering that another entity has infringed upon your intellectual property is not an experience any business owner wants to have, as it can lead to lost revenue, expensive litigation and damage to your reputation and brand.
But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? How are you to know whether you’re infringing upon someone else’s intellectual property? When it comes to avoiding copyright, trademark and patent infringement, the key is prevention. The following are some ways to avoid possible infringement issues:
- Copyrights: Copyright infringement is relatively easy to avoid in the sense that it’s rarely an accident. Whether you’re dealing with an image, text or sound recording, “borrowing” from an existing work in the sense in which it frequently happens—through outright copying—is unacceptable. By being creative rather than relying on existing materials, you can better prevent copyright infringement.
- Trademarks: Unlike copyrights, which generally require copying to be infringed upon, trademarks can be violated by designs or ideas that are “similar enough” to something that already exists. A close resemblance between business or product names, logos, slogans, sounds or other attributes can be enough to land a business in hot water for trademark infringement. Perhaps not surprisingly, this makes avoiding possible trademark infringement much more difficult. Start with a simple Internet search, graduate to a search with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and seek the counsel of a skilled intellectual property attorney.
- Patents: There are two main types of patents that most creators need to be aware of: utility patents and design patents. Utility patents are good for 20 years and prevent unauthorized use of an invention or process. Design patents last for 14 years and prohibit infringing upon the appearance of the patented product. Again, the database of the USPTO will be very helpful in ensuring your business avoids infringing upon an existing patent. If your product does not appear to violate any still-active patents or resemble any older ones, applying for a new patent could be in your best interest.
In any case involving intellectual property, your best chance at avoiding infringement comes when you conduct research ahead of time, looking into existing patents, copyrights and trademarks to be certain your idea is new and different and does not violate federal or territorial intellectual property law.
Additionally, you should ensure you have a knowledgeable intellectual property attorney on your side. The details of intellectual property law are often complex and confusing, and seeking the counsel of an experienced lawyer can help you find the clarity and peace of mind you need as you move forward with your plans.
BoltNagi is a well-established and widely respected intellectual property law firm serving businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.