This article discusses intellectual property issues for business owners.
Intellectual property is part of every business and can be a very tricky part of business law. Many intangible assets and elements of a business are considered intellectual property. Branding, logos, business concepts, and tradenames are part of most businesses. The name of any business is part of its intellectual property. Copyrights, trademarks, patents, inventions, artistic works, trade secrets, product ideas, and product designs are significant sources of revenue for many businesses. Each of these examples of intellectual property is something companies large and small should protect. Whether these are a major part of your business or a small part, it is important to understand and protect your business’s intellectual property.
Similarities and Differences
All businesses provide products or services. Are companies offering similar products and services at risk of intellectual property theft accusations? This is where things get tricky. Yes and no. It really depends on the situation.
There are certain things that can be patented and owned according to the law and some things that are not. The US Patent Office usually protects businesses by denying outlandish patents of common things. For example, they will keep things like the standard t-shirt shape from becoming patented. However, the logos and graphics printed on t-shirts can be protected by trademarks and copyrights.
Products can be similar but have to be different enough. Football cleats made by Nike and cleats made by Under Armour look very similar aside from the difference in logos. Another example is earbud-style headphones. Apple Airpods and Beats by Dr. Dre look very similar in size and function. Variations are important to differentiate between one product and another. This differentiation can be subtle but is one of the things that makes intellectual property law complex. Please contact us if you have questions about your product, service, or patent. We can help you with your intellectual property questions.
Remember that intellectual property laws are only enforceable in the United States. Many foreign countries abide by intellectual property laws and other completely ignore them. Our intellectual property lawyers can help you determine if there is any action you can take if you are having issues protecting your intellectual property.
What can I do if I am accused of intellectual property theft?
We can help you through this process if litigation is pending. The best way to combat the accusation of intellectual property infringement is to show documentation. Provide documentation of the product life cycle. A timeline of developments and processes to take the product from idea to development to market can show that you are acting independently and not in violation of intellectual property laws. Contact us if you are navigating this process and we can provide additional resources, support, and strategies.
What if my business name is similar to the trade name of another company?
Some business owners wonder if their company is at risk of intellectual property violations because they have the same name or a similar name to another company. This depends. Do you compete in the same industry as that company? Do you provide the same type of products or services?
If a customer could confuse your business with the other company because you operate in the same industry then you probably need to change your name. You could be found guilty of intellectual property theft if another company can prove that they have lost business and revenue because you are operating with a similar name in the industry.
However, if you are in a completely unrelated industry, your business is probably safe. Many companies share similar names as companies in other industries. Let’s imagine there are 3 companies in the same city with the “Best Ever” name in their business- Best Ever Lawn Care, Best Ever Appliance Repair, and Best Ever Burgers.
No one is going to confuse Best Ever Lawn Care with Best Ever Burgers at lunchtime. No one is going to call the Best Ever Lawn Care company when their washer breaks down and they need Best Ever Appliance Repair. No one is going to get very far with hedge-trimming help if they call Best Ever Burgers. You get the idea. Businesses with similar names are usually fine if they provide different products and services than the other company with the common name.
Intellectual property law can be complex. Situations vary from business to business and from one situation or industry to another. Help is available to determine the best course of action for your business. Contact one of our attorneys for help with your intellectual property questions.
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DISCLAIMER- This website talks about various business topics and various legal situations. The statements given by the host or guests or author do not constitute legal advice given to any individual or business. The host and/or guests are giving their personal opinion based on their personal and professional experience. Examples given are given broadly as examples with names removed for privacy. If you do have questions about your business or legal situation, please reach out and email firstname.lastname@example.org to discus your business or legal situation.