The need to protect intellectual property, whether it’s copyrighted music or a secret ingredient, has always been important for creators. But, in the context of our rapidly growing, global way of life, the threat to intellectual property also grows and becomes more complex, namely due to innovative technology and the need for cybersecurity.
Thomas Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently released a statement on the importance of protecting intellectual property in the age of Coronavirus, as new drug patents are filed. He explains the importance of patents, from increasing investments in biopharmaceutical research to fostering cooperation between the government and the private sector. His call for awareness demonstrates the importance of IP protections on businesses and our everyday life—all the way down to the medicine we take.
Intellectual property and cybersecurity affect our lives more than most people are aware. Learning the basics of both provides a unique perspective on just how much both topics influence the world around us and help color the decisions we make—from business decisions to financial decisions, to the use of technology in our personal lives.
I encountered the term “What’s in the Box?” when I first learned the principles of protecting great ideas. Intellectual property protection is a box that allows you to protect all the great ideas that are inside.
You can’t protect any ideas that fall outside of the box—there’s no use closing the barn door after the horse is stolen.
That’s why intellectual property exists: To create the biggest box possible.
Cybersecurity acts as the lock on the box. In an age of technology, the need for cybersecurity is increasingly important to keep your ideas and information safe from those with nefarious purposes.
Intellectual property may seem like a difficult concept, but that comes, primarily, from the fact that it’s not a single concept. Rather, it is an umbrella term encompassing a variety of different principles, laws and ideas. Therefore, the way that you protect intellectual property will be influenced by the type of property itself.
When you take away the veil of “intellectual property,” you’re left with four different groups of ideas: Patents, copyright, trademarks and trade secrets.
Most people are probably familiar with patents, given how fond our favorite companies (such as Apple and Samsung) are of suing each other over patents.
Inventors receive patents to protect their invention. Obtaining a patent from the government grants the owner the exclusive right to exclude other people from making, using or selling their invention for a set length of time.
Patent owners do not necessarily have to use their patent to enforce it. Stopping others from using your hard work (or brilliant idea) is the reward for obtaining the patent.
Copyrights protect works of art, be it a book, painting, song or a movie.
Like with patents, the government issues copyrights for a set length of time. Once a copyright expires, the world is free to use the work. This is why you can get all of Shakespeare’s plays for free on iBooks!
Copyrights are also like patents in that the owner doesn’t have to use their work to enforce it, because you, the owner, already did the important work by creating.
Trademarks are words or symbols used to represent a company or its products.
The United States government grants registration for trademarks, but registration isn’t necessary to ensure protection. Trademarks, unlike patents or copyrights, can last forever so long as the company continuously uses the trademark in association with the goods and services.
To give you an idea of how long trademarks may last, one of the oldest trademarks in the world is the name of the famous beer, Stella Artois. The company claims continuous use since 1366.
While trademark owners want their marks to be well-known, this isn’t necessarily always a good thing. When trademarks become so well-associated with their goods (think Kleenex for tissues), they risk becoming generic and less worthy of protection. If everyone thinks of Kleenex for any box of tissue, the company Kleenex can’t argue their name is only associated with their tissues.
Trade secrets are like trademarks in that they can last forever, so long as the owner takes steps to make sure their secrets stay secrets. Most people think of the recipe for Coca-Cola as a trade secret, but trade secrets are far more common than people think. Even customer lists, for example, can be a trade secret. A manufacturing process can be a trade secret.
Unlike patents, copyrights and trademarks, no one needs to register their trade secret. They just need to make sure it stays secret. And, if they can do that, it can remain protected forever. (So, good luck trying to figure out what goes into KFC chicken!)
The internet is jam-packed with requests for personal information, credit card information, cookies that track our purchases and, sometimes, hackers that are desperate for your great ideas. Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting our personal information and our ideas on the Internet.
The world is full of recent stories about “data breaches,” where some hackers crack open stores of sensitive information online (think Target or the Home Depot or the Democratic National Committee) and abscond with customers’ credit card information, personal data or damaging correspondences for later use.
In addition, the advent of “intelligent technologies” makes it even more vital to think about cybersecurity and how to protect intellectual property. CPO Magazine, for example, calls on professionals to consider how Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain and cloud-based storage can affect intellectual property, whether it pertains to security and access measures or to any intellectual property created by the AI itself.
In short, cybersecurity aims to make sure that hacks and data breaches don’t happen—or that it happens less and less.
Federal law requires companies to provide customers with information as to how the company stores customer data. Customers are also entitled to know how to keep private their information if they’d rather not disclose it.
Some of these disclosures are usually what the average Internet user clicks through or “accepts” without reading—because who wants to read fifteen pages of “terms and conditions” in size 8 font when you’re just trying to sign up for Amazon Prime?
However, those terms and conditions, as well as privacy policies, are fundamental to understanding:
Privacy, particularly on the Internet, is such an important concept in Europe that it is listed as a fundamental human right under the European Union. The same cannot be said for the United States, which uses more a hodgepodge of federal and state laws to govern Internet privacy and the storage and sharing of personal information.
The less information there is out there about you or your ideas, the safer you are.
[Editor’s Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following webinars: Leveraging & Protecting Trade Secrets in the 21st Century, Copyrights, Patents, and Trademarks…Oh My! and IP – What Every Lawyer & Every Client Must Understand. This is an updated version of an article originally published on February 23, 2017.]
©All Rights Reserved. June , 2020. DailyDAC&trade, LLC d/b/a/ Financial Poise™
Meghan Nugent is an associate attorney with SpencePC. She has extensive experience assisting clients in both transactional and litigation matters of all natures. The focus of her practice is Intellectual Property. She also assists the firm’s clients in the prosecution of trademarks –including trademark clearance, registration, and enforcement. Ms. Nugent graduated from the University of…
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