Business owners must know how to brand. Today, with the proliferation of the Internet, successful entrepreneurs need customers to be familiar with their image. Brands, and other identity markers, differ from actual physical property that a business owns. They are a form of intellectual property, which is a legal concept that most people know exists but never really understand fully.
To help demystify intellectual property law for business owners, and others, here is an explanation of the subject, followed by three examples of specific types.
What are intellectual property laws?
This branch of law deals with the rules that protect rights to property that cannot be visible seen. Intellectual property differs from “real” property. Houses, cars, boats and computers are examples of real property. People can see and touch them. In contrast, intellectual property consists of things that society recognizes as existing, yet are impossible to physically handle.
Brand names, books, computer operating systems, songs, iconic symbols and inventions are all examples of intellectual property. Some, are physical items, yet it is the idea behind them, such as the story of a book, that the law covers.
Inventions are unique in that there is usually one person who is first in conceiving of the idea. Now, this fact does not preclude others from thinking about and creating a similar, if not the same, product. The two people may have no knowledge of the existence of one another. Human brains just have similar capacities to solve problems by inventing products. Nevertheless, one person did create the product first and, under the law, deserves his or her just reward.
To save the rights of the first inventor to the profits of their hard labor, there is the patent, a form of intellectual property. Inventors apply for a patent, issued by the government, to reserve exclusive ownership rights. The holder of a patent can choose to license out the use to others, including corporations for mass distribution of the invention.
Sometimes a company or individual business may want to prevent others from using the symbol that customers associate with them. The law refers to this unique identifier as a trademark, a symbol or name that the government allows one entity to use exclusively in its business affairs. Once a business registers a trademark, no other entity may employ it without expressed permission.
Original works of art, literature or music receive protection from illegal use or distribution under copyright law. In some cases, depending on the nation, copyrights expire. These rights keep others from claiming, as their own, the creative works of the entitled party, even if unintentionally.
The Value of Intellectual Property Laws
Without intellectual property laws it would be impossible for businesses to protect their financial interests in ideas, symbols and names. The laws prevent others from benefiting from the hard work of creative types. Society benefits as a whole because those who find solutions to problems that make life better, or more beautiful, feel free to do so. They know that no future business can come along and make use of the idea, without first paying them for permission.