How to Find an Intellectual Property Lawyer
Thanks to the Internet, it's never been easier to turn your idea into a business or brand. But how do you ensure that no one steals your idea, product, logo, brand identity, or other representative characteristics of the business?
You hire an intellectual property lawyer. Intellectual property lawyers are a necessity for anyone looking to protect their unique idea.
Wondering if hiring an intellectual property lawyer is the right step for your business or creative venture? In this guide, we'll explore:
- What intellectual property is and why it's important for entrepreneurs and creatives alike
- What an intellectual property lawyer does
- How you can make sure your idea is protected
By the end, you'll know if you need an intellectual property lawyer or can take another path.
Intellectual Property 101: What Is It and Why Is It Important?
As defined by Cornell Law School, intellectual property is "any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others."
This means everything from music to novels, business names to invention designs, can all be classified as products of the human intellect.
Intellectual property laws are put in place to protect these ideas and ensure the individual monopolies created by the ownership of the respective intellectual property. Once a person or business claims intellectual property of a particular idea, such as an advertising slogan or jingle, no other entity can use this.
For example, if Burger King were to suddenly use "I'm Loving It" in their advertising campaigns, they would be violating the intellectual property held by McDonald's.
Intellectual property is broken into four categories:
- Trade Secrets
Each category has its own use and governing body.
The term 'copyright' refers to the legal right to reproduce, publish, or sell written or drawn material. Once a book is written, or a work of art is created by an individual, they immediately have the copyright. However, federal copyright protection can be applied for by filing for a copyright registration online, in person, or via mail.
Copyrights are usually sought after by those creating original works such as:
- Fine Artists
However, it is important to note that a copyright does not protect an idea, common properties, or discoveries. It is in place to protect original works, such as research, novels, songs, and art.
A trademark is a type of intellectual property that distinguishes one business from another. This can include a wordmark, typography, logo, color scheme, and other branding elements.
For example, the Nike "swoosh" logo is trademarked by the company. If another business began using this logo or symbol to identify their company, this would be in violation of Nike's trademark.
Trademark law protects items including:
- Brand and product names
- Brand elements (typography, illustrations, colors, etc.)
The difference between a trademark and a copyright is that a copyright protects a piece of original work, whereas a trademark protects a company's identity.
To file for a trademark, businesses can file an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO.)
Another form of intellectual property is a patent. Patents work to defend inventions, novel ideas, and new processes.
When a company develops a new technology or product design, filing for a patent ensures the invention's originality, specifications, and utility. This protects your invention against a competitor or other business potentially stealing the idea.
Patents are viable for up to 20 years after filing. However, obtaining a patent can be a long process.
The last type of intellectual property is known as a trade secret.
Trade secrets refer to any private, exclusive business information that gives the company leverage or a competitive advantage over the competition.
Ways to protect trade secrets can include:
- Requiring employees to fill out non-disclosure agreements
- Developing processes to safeguard the information
- Leveraging watermarks on appropriate documents or resources
What Does an Intellectual Property Lawyer Do?
Intellectual property attorneys work to protect a client's various trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets. In doing so, these professionals ensure that clients maintain ownership over their original ideas, business identities, and other critical materials.
These lawyers engage in a series of activities to accomplish this, including but not limited to:
- Drafting legal documents and contracts related to trademark, copyright, and patent applications
- Maintaining an ongoing knowledge of clients' intellectual property materials
- Representing clients in a courtroom when necessary
- Consulting on new ideas, original works, and documents
Additionally, intellectual property lawyers can assist businesses with licensing and franchising agreements. This practice protects the business as they grow their products, locations, and workforce.
How to Find an Intellectual Property Lawyer
While a quick Google search will show you intellectual property lawyers available in your local area, the process of finding the right attorney is a bit more in depth.
As you research local attorneys online, be sure to thoroughly review their credentials. Are they well versed in trademark, copyright, or patent law? Do they specialize in intellectual property laws? Have they represented clients similar to you and your company before?
Next, ask around for referrals. Recommendations from trusted colleagues and those in your professional network will be valuable when deciding on an intellectual property lawyer. Be sure to read online reviews as well.
Once you've identified a few lawyers that fit your criteria, request a consultation or phone conversation. Use this opportunity to ask the attorney questions and see if their responses align with your business goals and needs. Keep in mind, most lawyers will charge for this consultation time.
Deciding When to Use an Intellectual Property Lawyer
Depending on your situation, you may need the assistance of an intellectual property expert. While obtaining an intellectual property lawyer is not a legal necessity, their expertise comes in handy multiple times throughout the process of filing, protecting, and maintaining a copyright, trademark, patent, or trade secret.
Deciding to file for a trademark, copyright, and other types of intellectual property is a tricky process. Even the smallest error in the application process can cause your intellectual property to not be protected. This exposes your work to potential theft or infringements without the ability to retain it.
Let's review a few examples of when you will need an IP lawyer.
Writing a Book
If you're writing an original novel or non-fiction book, you automatically obtain the copyright once the work is created. However, once published, distributed, and sold to the general public, an intellectual property lawyer can help ensure your original work is protected throughout the process.
Whether audible, drawn, sculpted, or written, all works of original art are protected under copyright law.
In industries such as fine art, graphic design, and music, an intellectual property lawyer can fight for your work if threatened by plagiarism or blatantly stolen.
Starting a Business
Launching a business is an exciting time. But it's critical to make sure your business's identity is protected from the start. Trademarking your logo, brand name, and other identifiable elements with help from an intellectual property attorney wards off copycats.
Protecting Product Inventions
If you're in the process of developing new technology, product, or useful invention, you'll want an intellectual property lawyer to assist you with the patent filing process. This process can be complex and notoriously takes a long time to approve, so having a legal representative on your side can make the filing experience a breeze.
Safeguarding Existing Intellectual Property
If you have previously filed for a copyright, trademark, or patent and that intellectual property is in jeopardy or being challenged, an intellectual property lawyer will help you protect those materials.
Additionally, if you come across another business or individual using your intellectual property to represent their company, products, services, or works, your intellectual attorney can defend your legal rights. If necessary, they will also represent you and your business in court.
With this in mind, your chosen attorney will also assist in drafting any legal agreements related to your intellectual property, business, and brand.
Licensing, Franchising, and Partnerships
Businesses can take multiple paths toward growth. Licensing out the brand name and entities through franchising and partnership opportunities is one such path. However, in these situations, the parent company must protect the brand identity at all costs.
An intellectual property lawyer will ensure that all legal documents, contracts, and materials guard the company's intellectual property as new franchise partners are onboarded.
At the end of the day, many businesses choose to have a dedicated intellectual property lawyer to ensure they are doing their due diligence and protecting the company at all costs. This gives them peace of mind knowing their work and materials are guarded, allowing them to conduct business as usual without interruptions.
Whether you're a musician working on a new album or a global brand developing new technology for an upcoming product launch, having an intellectual property lawyer on your side will prove to be beneficial for years to come.