How can businesses protect their intellectual property?

Businesses should shield intellectual property by registering for protection, keeping confidential information private and legally enforcing their rights.

Intellectual property is one of the most valuable assets that many businesses in California possess. Unfortunately, most businesses, from start-ups to established companies, may experience misappropriation or theft of this property at some point. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, intellectual property theft has caused reported losses to at least 45 percent of businesses in the U.S.

If businesses have not taken adequate measures to shield their intellectual property, they may not be able to seek recourse in these situations. This makes it imperative for business owners to know how to defend this valuable asset.

Register it

Protecting intellectual property may require registering the property with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This measure can help protect the following forms of property:

· Creative works, such as books, songs, movies, software or designs. Copyright protection can prevent unauthorized reproduction and distribution of these works.

· Inventions and processes. By securing a patent, businesses can protect novel inventions from production and use by other parties.

· Trademarks, which are words, phrases, logos and designs that distinguish a business or its products. A business can also protect a trademark by being the first party to use it in commerce, but formal registration affords a higher level of protection.

To secure these legal protections, a business must confirm that it is not violating another party's patent, copyright or trademark. Once the protection becomes effective, third parties are prohibited from creating, using, selling or distributing the intellectual property for a fixed amount of time.

Maintain secrecy

Some types of intellectual property also need to be protected through confidentiality. For instance, privileged information that gives a business an economic advantage may be considered a trade secret. Businesses do not need to officially register trade secrets to prevent their misappropriation; instead, a business enjoys legal protection as long as the information remains confidential and qualifies as a trade secret.

Businesses should take several steps to protect trade secrets and other sensitive information. These include requiring employees and contractors to sign non-disclosure agreements; training these parties on properly handling sensitive information; and investing in improving physical and virtual security.

Use litigation

When trade secrets are misappropriated, or when third parties violate copyrights, trademarks or patents, businesses may need to enforce their rights through business dispute resolution or civil litigation. If litigation proves necessary, a civil court may prohibit a third party from further use or sale of the intellectual property. Alternately, a court may penalize the other party by ordering the payment of royalties or damages.

All of these methods of protecting trade secrets can be complex, and during each process, avoiding oversights is essential. As a result, business owners may benefit from consulting with an attorney for advice on fully shielding their intellectual property.