This is the second half of our webinar recap.
- Copyright Basics
The basic idea of copyright is that unless you have created it, you have to figure out the permissions.
Q: If someone publishes a song on a website or YouTube, can someone use it if it has not been copywritten?
A: No! Just because the song (or any other creative work) is not officially registered with the US Copyright Office (USCO) does not mean that is not protected by copyright. The creator and author/singer holds the rights. If it is not registered with the USCO then the creator cannot sue an infringer until it is registered, but it is not fair game to use it.
Q: How do I protect the branding for my company?
A: To protect your branding, first make sure that you have ownership of anything that outside people create for you. Read the contract and ensure that you are transferred the rights to all materials including website, logos, taglines and so on. Once you have an inventory of these items, consider TM and copyright protection. Remember you can put the TM on your branding without registration.
- Patents – Seek legal advice!
Q: If developing products that have minor variations (i.e. shoes), should one seek a patent for each item?
A: I am not sure that there can be patents on shoes, but this is a very technical legal question and you should run the product idea by a patent agent or attorney to discuss a patent strategy.
Q: How do you handle the patent or trademark if your business idea is an addition to an existing product?
A: It’s best to proceed carefully. You may need to seek permission or license the original product or discuss appropriate use of the TM before you start work. This is a tricky area and professional advice should be sought.
Q: Can I protect my idea on how to do business, i.e. a particular way I raise funds? Would a method be I.P. property?
A: This is a very tricky area if you are thinking patents. There have been several Supreme Court cases that have seriously limited and muddled business methods or business process patents. It's very complex and you should seek legal advice. However, your other option is to keep your method as a trade secret.
- Contracts are Critical
IP ownership starts with proper contracts, not necessarily running to the patent office. Make sure you read and understand your agreements and seek help if you are unsure.
Q: Any advice about freelance sites (upwork, elance, fiverr) and protecting what you pay for (make sure it's mine)?
A: Yes, when you use any type of website or in-person design services, first read the contract to find out whether the IP ownership transfers to you with the rights to make changes and so on. If it does not, then ask for it! And seek professional legal help when negotiating.
Q: I created a piece of IP for my use at my former employer. It is of value to that employer if someone knew how to use it. I created it on company time. Is this technically my IP or that of the company for which I worked?
A: This is a common situation and can be very tricky when you are dealing with a former employee. It depends on what your employment agreement or employee handbook said about inventions or IP. Many companies will state that anything created using their equipment and/or on company time and/or for their business is owned by the company, not the employee.Others only care about IP that relates to their business and so on. As it can vary widely, the fIrst step is to read your employment contract.
Please remember that every business has IP and it’s your most valuable asset.