Intellectual Property, Cybersecurity and Creativity — three words that are not grouped together frequently. Yet, in the context of our rapidly growing global way of life, each affects us a great deal.
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. This column hopes to teach readers the basics of intellectual property and cybersecurity through real world examples.
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.
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, it aims 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.
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 — you already did the important work (namely, 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 Stella Artois (the name of a beer). The company claims continuous use since 1366.
While trademarks 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 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 or personal data, or (sometimes damaging) correspondences for later use.
Cybersecurity aims to make sure these hacks and data breaches don’t happen — or that it happens less and less.
Federal law requires companies to provide customers any information about how the company stores customer information. Customers are also entitled to know how to keep private their information (if they’d rather not disclose).
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 eight 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 that uses more in a hodgepodge of federal and state laws to govern Internet privacy and the storage and sharing of personal information.
The less information about you or your ideas is out there, the safer you are.
With that primer, we’re off and running. What’s in the box might seem like an easy concept right now but nothing worthwhile ever is!
So, each month we’ll add a new twist or turn to what great ideas are protectable and how the law says you’re allow to protect them.
Meghan Nugent is an associate 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 and litigation of trademarks.
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