Trade Secrets vs. Patents vs. Copyrights
Nov. 16, 2022
A business may rely on intellectual property assets that it needs to protect from misappropriation or misuse by others, which would result in financial and reputational damage to the owner. Common forms of intellectual property include trade secrets, patents, and copyrights. Each is governed differently by U.S. statutes, and each requires a different set of procedures to protect them against unauthorized use or disclosure.
What happens if another business, or a former employee, does misappropriate your trade secret, patent, or copyright for their own use and financial gain? In most cases, this is going to cause losses and damages to your company, so you will need to take action. A lawsuit may be necessary, but sometimes, issuing a cease-and-desist notice to the other party may be enough. In the latter case, there may also have to be negotiations.
If you become a victim of intellectual property theft and misappropriation, or have been accused of being the thief, and you’re in or around Stafford, Texas, contact The Parzivand Law Firm, PLLC.
The intellectual property attorney at The Parzivand Law Firm, PLLC can assess the situation and advise you of the next steps you should take. Hessam will represent you aggressively in all actions, including any lawsuits. The Parzivand Law Firm, PLLC also proudly serves clients in Sugar Land and throughout Fort Bend County.
Protecting Intellectual Property
There is an old saying that goes, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” The mousetrap represents something you’ve created that underlies and propels your business model. The problem is, if your neighbor spies on you and steals your better mousetrap design, you’ve just lost exclusive rights to it.
Preserving your rights to your intellectual property is really the crux of the issue. Each type of intellectual property asset – trade secret, copyright, or patent – has different practical and legal requirements that you must adhere to if you wish to protect your asset.
When it comes to trade secrets, the most obvious example is the formula for Coca-Cola, which is locked away in a vault that only two people know how to access, according to legend.
So, formulas and even recipes can be trade secrets, but so can information, methods, practices, processes, business plans, customer databases, and more. A trade secret has to be something that is not publicly known or cannot be deduced simply by others.
Unlike a patent or a copyright, a trade secret cannot be registered with the U.S. government. Thus, the owner of it must take measures to protect it. Such measures include, as the Coca-Cola example shows, locking the trade secret away and limiting access to it.
In this digital age, most information is stored on hard drives or on cloud-based services. To protect the trade secret, passwords need to be created and shared only with those with an absolute need for access. A business can also require users or those with knowledge of the trade secret to sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs).
There are different types of patents. While most people equate patents with inventions, patents are also available for designs and new plants. The invention type of patent is called a utility patent.
Obtaining a patent can be a lengthy process. You must apply to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), where a patent examiner will scour the documents and other submissions you have provided to see whether your idea or creation is unique enough to warrant official protection under U.S. law.
Patents, however, expire after 20 years, and in the interim, the holder of the patent must make what are called “maintenance fees” to keep the patent active. These fees are due 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after issuance of the patent. If they are not made, then the patent will be considered “abandoned,” and you will lose legal protections.
Patent infringement does happen, and legal action can be taken to resolve the situation. Remember, though, a patent obtained through the USPTO is recognized only in the United States. If someone in a foreign country infringes on your patent, you will have no legal recourse unless you have also sought patent protection in that country.
Copyright protection automatically extends to creators of works in different forms, such as literature, drama, music, painting, and other intellectual achievements. To obtain copyright protection, the work must be original, and it also must be in a tangible medium of expression; for instance, it might be in book format or on canvas if it’s a painting. Performances such as pantomimes or choreographic works are also protected once performed.
If you desire further protection for your work, you can apply for official copyright recognition with the U.S. Copyright Office. This protection will last the life of the creator plus 70 years after death. Copyright registration is useful when, in legal battles, ownership of the work is in dispute.
With or without official copyright registration, you are free to bring legal action against those who reproduce your work, perform the work publicly, display the work publicly, or in general, profit from the work without your permission or licensing.
Seek Trusted Legal Guidance
To protect your intellectual property, or to protect yourself against accusations of misappropriation, you need to rely on an experienced attorney who has dealt with intellectual property issues from both sides: the owner and the one who allegedly misappropriated.
If you’re in or around Stafford, Texas, contact The Parzivand Law Firm, PLLC with all your intellectual property questions and concerns. Work with an attorney who knows and understands all the applicable laws, regulations, and standards concerning trade secrets, patents, and copyrights.