The wide world of intellectual property (IP) can seem a little convoluted and hard to navigate. You hear from one source it's not a big deal and you can wait on it (we do not agree!), and then from another that it's one of the most important things to factor in as you start your business. We are going to tear apart 10 common IP myths so you'll never again have to question which way is up for IP and intangibles.
Myth #1: My business is too small to need to worry about IP
Your business might feel like a drop in the bucket now, but you never know what the future holds! If you created something valuable, protecting it now could save you a headache down the line. IP is an asset, just like a computer or machine, and should be safeguarded as such.
Myth #2: We don't sell anything to the general public, so we don't need protection
Even if you don't sell a product, you probably have something unique and valuable to protect. Think of logos, documents, software, or anything else you may produce as a company. No matter what the type of property, you don't want to run the risk of being without IP protection.
Myth #3: Copyright is instant, so I'm covered by that
Copyright doesn't cover everything. While it's technically true that copyright goes into effect once the work has been created in a tangible form, the same cannot be said for trademarks, patents, or other IP protections. Never simply assume you're covered—you may be in for a rude awakening!
Myth #4: We made a bunch of changes, so this final product is ours
If you're taking ideas, words, designs, or anything else from a source you don't have the right to, the end result is not yours no matter how much you change it. Take inspiration, but never lift the essence of something which isn't yours. You wouldn't want the same done to you, would you?
Myth #5: I own everything created by my employees
To some extent this is true based on work-for-hire agreements made with your employees. But with your contractors, unless you've outlined in your contracts that you obtain rights to your contractors' work, you will likely not own anything. A sentence or two in a contract could make all the difference in the world.
Myth #6: The domain is registered, so the name belongs to me
Domain registration is not the same as a trademark, no matter how you slice it. Simply "claiming" something will not eliminate the necessary step of registration for IP protection. Similarly, the old "postmark" myth (sending your own work to yourself in the post) is not a solid way to establish your ownership.
Myth #7: We sent in our paperwork, now we're golden
The registration process may have begun, but you're not in the clear yet! You still must wait for examination and acceptance. Until you know everything has been approved, you may not be protected.
Myth #8: I'm registered. Now my IP is covered everywhere
Even if you're covered from head to toe, you're still not guaranteed worldwide protection. IP laws and regulations change country to country. If you apply in the US, then you are being protected in the US only. Therefore, if you would like to expand your business internationally, you very well may need to register with each new country, as well.
Myth #9: I paid for it, so now it's mine
Even if you pay someone specifically for IP—whatever it may be—the original creator still holds all rights to the work unless otherwise specified. Be sure to outline precisely what you expect in a contract, or if you've already fallen victim, ask the original creator what you can and cannot do with the work.
Myth #10: It was on the Internet, so we can use it
Just because something is available to you doesn't mean you're allowed to do whatever you'd like with it. There is great appeal in businesses with original content, so you should always strive to use work unique to you and your business. With changes in IP laws, you could also be liable for a lawsuit if you simply snatch something out of a search engine, so create something new!