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					Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents, Oh My! Understanding Intellectual
You are a business owner with a web presence. During a routine Google
search for your page ranking, you discover something disturbing. There is
another company out there with a name very similar to yours and almost
identical content on their website. What do you do? Is your company name
and website content automatically protected by copyright law? Should you
have registered your company name as a trademark? Can you demand that
they change their name and dismantle their website immediately?
Intellectual Property can be a confusing topic, and one that all business
owners should know about. Sadly however, many entrepreneurs simply don't.
Intellectual property is in very simple terms an idea that legally
belongs to somebody, be they a company or an individual. Only the owner
of that idea, or somebody the owner has a legal agreement with can use
the idea. Generally, the owner of the idea is usually its creator unless
someone paid them to create the idea, in which case the idea's owner is
the person who paid for the idea. There are different kinds of
intellectual property, but for the purpose of this article, we will focus
on copyright, patent and trademark.
Patent – A patent protects the creators of new inventions. An invention
can include anything from a new product or business method to a recipe.
If you decide to patent your invention, there a few things you should
know. First, you will need to apply for a patent in every country where
you would like your invention to be protected. Secondly, getting a patent
is going to cost you a pretty penny. You will have to pay thousands of
dollars to patent your idea and it will take a minimum of 2 years
(probably more) before you are granted a patent. Also, your precious
invention will no longer remain a secret since your patent application
will be made public once your application is submitted. If all of this
wasn't enough bad news, patent protection generally only lasts for twenty
years from the date of your application. Phew! On the up side, once your
patent is accepted, you can sue anyone who tries to manufacture or sell
your invention.
It's worth mentioning here that another method to keep your invention
protected is to keep the method of manufacturing it a ‘trade secret'. If
you choose this process, of course, in order to manufacture your product,
you will have to tell somebody. You would have to have anyone who would
learn your secret sign a confidentiality agreement. Consult a lawyer if
you plan to use this method.
Trademark – Trademarks are the marks used to distinguish one company's
products or services from another's. They can include a product name, a
slogan, and any other mark that is deemed to be unique to a company such
as a logo or unique packaging. As a rule, you can't trademark descriptive
words, geographical names or a person's name. You also cannot register a
business' name. You can however, register part of a name used to identify
a product or service. For example "Kellogg's Company" is the owner of the
"Kellogg's" trademark and the "Rice Krispies" trademark. You cannot
register a trademark similar to one that is already in use by another
company. Beware; a trademark does not have to be registered in order to
prevent others from using it. If a company is using an unregistered
trademark in your geographical area, they can still prevent you from
using it. You could perform a search in a trademark database and find
later that you are using another company's unregistered trademark. If you
find another company in a completely different industry using your
unregistered trademark, you probably won't be able to do anything about
it if they are not your competitors or if they are not in your
geographical vicinity. Protection of a registered trademark however, is
much stronger than an unregistered one, and once you have a registered
trademark, you can prevent competitors from using it, or confusingly
similar ones anywhere in the country in which your trademark is
Copyright – Any written text, artistic work, or computer program is
automatically protected by copyright. Anything you or I write, be it
published, online text or unpublished, handwritten text, is copyrighted.
Also anything we draw, paint, photograph, film, or compose is also
protected by copyright. Copyright can be registered, but it doesn't have
to be in order for it to be illegal for individuals to copy someone
else's work. Copyright also lasts for an extremely long time. Usually it
lasts the duration of the author's life plus fifty years at which point
it becomes a part of the public domain and can be used by anyone.
Factual information cannot be copyrighted. For example, this article is
based on fact. Although you cannot copy my article and claim to have
authored it yourself, you can take the facts included in the article and
use them in your own written material. If you would like to use a very
small portion of someone else's written work, this is usually acceptable
as long as you credit the author.
Finally, what do you do if someone uses your work without your
permission? Your first step should be to contact the individual. You can
usually either go to the contact page on the offender's web site or go to and enter the offender's domain to find contact
information. If your initial communication doesn't get results, you
should then send a ‘cease and desist order'. For sample orders, just
perform a search on ‘cease and desist orders'. Finally if still no action
is taken by the offending party, contact their web host and advise them
of the situation and finally, contact search engines and make them aware
of the situation. These actions should render the offender's website
useless or in the very least give them enough trouble to convince them to
remove the copied material.
For more information on intellectual property in Canada, visit the
Canadian Intellectual Property Office at, for the U.S., visit
the United States Patent and Trademark Office at and for
Europe please visit the European Patent Office at www.european-patent-
Kelly Sims is a Virtual Assistant and President of Virtually There VA
Services. Please visit her website to sign up for her free monthly
newsletter providing useful information that enhances and simplifies the
lives of busy entrepreneurs. =>