Blogging IP Legal
Legal basics: What is intellectual property?
February 2, 2015
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An introduction to intellectual property for bloggers:

Intellectual property is a big deal these days in many industries, particularly those that deal with Internet content creation. Whether you’re blogging, taking photographs or starting a business, IP can be a very valuable asset.

However, IP is also usually pretty misunderstood. Many people I speak with tend to mash the different types of IP together into one or substitute different names for different things.

I’d like to clear that up in this post. By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll be a mini-expert in IP. Well, at least you’ll understand the differences between the different types and what they protect.

Let’s get started!

By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll be a mini-expert in IP.

Four types of intellectual property:

Your blog posts and photos, your secret cookie recipe, your invention for a new kind of microchip and your company’s brand name are all different types of IP. They fall under four categories:

  • Patents;
  • Copyrights;
  • Trademarks; and
  • Trade Secrets

As I said, each one protects something different, each in its own way and with its own rules. It’s kind of complicated, but I will break each one down and give you a one-line summary that gets the main point across for a non-lawyer.

What are patents?

Patents are inventions.

They could be new machines, new processes or even improvements on other inventions. Patents also cover new “compositions of matter” and even ornamental designs.

A patent gives the inventor and holder of the patent the right to stop others from using that invention. It does not, however, give the patent holder the right to make the invention themselves.

You see, your patent could include other patented inventions inside of it. Therefore, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to make use of your patent without getting permission from that other patent holder. All you can legally do is stop another person from using YOUR invention, or let them do it in exchange for a licensing fee.

Patents aren’t really important for bloggers and content creators, but they are pretty important for many businesses. If you’ve come up with an invention and are crafting a business around it, definitely get in touch with a patent attorney before revealing your invention to the world.

Patents aren’t really important for bloggers and content creators, but they are pretty important for many businesses.

What about copyrights?

Copyright protects what lawyers call “works of authorship.” This usually means creative works that can come in a lot of different forms. Musical works, both performances and compositions, photographs, writing, dance choreography and even computer software code all fall under copyright protection.

The coolest thing about copyright, at least in the US, is that as soon as you create the work, you have a copyright on it. So when you save your Word document, click the camera shutter button or videotape yourself singing, you own a copyright on that. Without registering, there isn’t much you can do about someone infringing on your copyright, but you do have one.

Having copyright gives you the exclusive right to duplicate, distribute, publicly perform and make “derivative works” from your original work. A derivative work would be something like a sequel to a movie (there was a case where a guy wrote his version of Rocky IV without permission) or translating a story into another language.

The coolest thing about copyright . . . is that as soon as you create the work, you have a copyright on it.

Trademarks are more than just that little ™ symbol:

A trademark protects any symbol that consumers use to identify where goods are coming from. The aim of trademark protection is to protect consumers from being confused about the source of the goods they are purchasing.

For instance, the Starbucks logo is a mark that people recognize. If they buy coffee with that logo on it, they know what they’re getting. If someone else used Starbucks’ logo to sell their own coffee (or other products), then Starbucks’ brand gets diminished because consumers can no longer know that Starbucks is the source.

starbucks-coffee-logo

Unlike patent and copyright, which give you protection for a certain amount of time, trademark only lasts as long as you’re still using that mark to identify your goods or services.

The aim of trademark protection is to protect consumers from being confused about the source of goods they are purchasing.

The secret behind trade secrets:

When you have a valuable business secret, whether it’s a process or a secret recipe, you don’t want to register it publicly. However, it still needs to be protected. That’s where trade secret law comes in.

Basically, you protect your trade secrets through confidentiality agreements and actual physical or digital security. If the secret gets out, it loses its value in that industry. In those cases, such as when someone spies on the company or an employee lets the secret slip, that person leaking the info may be held liable for the damages.

If the secret gets out, it loses its value in that industry.

Wrapping it up:

So, to wrap up, here’s a little list that I promise will make you fun at parties (if you think lawyers are fun at parties…):

Patents: Inventions, allows you to stop others from using your invention (Think Nintendo Wii remote)

Copyright: For creative works, gives you the exclusive right to copy, perform and make new works from your copyrighted work. (Think photos and short stories)

Trademark: Protects your brand name to avoid confusing consumers about where the product is coming from. Gives you the right to stop others from using your brand identifier, whether it’s a company or product name, a slogan or even the look or shape of a product. (Think the Starbucks or Apple logos)

Trade Secrets: These are things that are kept secret. Registering them publicly would let the secret out, so they need to be protected with contracts and security measure. (Think KFC’s secret blend of herbs and spices)

I hope this was helpful. For bloggers and Internet entrepreneurs, copyright and trademark are the biggies. I’ll be delving a little deeper into those in future blog posts. Stay tuned and sign up for the mailing list to stay updated.

photo credit: [Rossco]:[www.rgstrachan.com], Klaus M and Skley via photopin cc

About author

Zachary Strebeck

I'm a solo practice lawyer and full-time digital nomad. I run my law practice at www.strebecklaw.com, representing Internet, mobile software and gaming entrepreneurs. I also blog about digital nomad travel at A Lawyer Abroad.

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