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Without intellectual property, everything is free to copy.

Byline: David Rogers

Just because you invent something does not mean you own it. The general rule is that everything -- every idea, concept, name, product, machine and formulation, which for the purpose of this article are each referred to as an "invention" (As patent practitioners know, in patent law the term "invention" refers to something that falls within the scope of patentable subject matter and that can be described in sufficient detail to teach persons skilled in the art to which the invention pertains how to make and use the invention.) -- is free to copy, unless it is protected by intellectual property, which defines limited legal exceptions to the general rule. Understanding the various types of intellectual property, and applying the right type(s) to your invention, are critical to monetizing the invention. If you fail to obtain proper intellectual property protection your invention then falls into the general rule of "free to copy," in which case you may be relegated to bottom feeding, competing primarily on price, or trying to replicate others' inventions without running afoul of their intellectual property rights. The following diagram illustrates how intellectual property defines narrow exceptions to the general rule that everything is free to copy.


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Intellectual Property Defines Exceptions to the General Rule That Everything Is Free To Copy

Determining Which Type of Intellectual Property Is Right for You

The first step in protecting your invention is determining into which type(s) of intellectual property it falls. There are two general types of intellectual property: (1) those that protect the functional, or utilitarian, aspects of an invention, and (2) those that protect the non-functional, or ornamental, aspects of an invention.

Choosing the suitable type(s) requires matching one or more attributes of your invention with an intellectual property protection mechanism. People often assume an invention cannot be protected, or fail to realize an invention may be protected by multiple types of intellectual property. In either case, they may obtain insufficient intellectual property rights to prevent copying and leave significant value on the table. The following flow chart, which matches attributes of an invention with intellectual property types, and brief explanation of the main types of intellectual property explain how to select the intellectual property type(s) that best suit your invention.

Example of Applying Intellectual Property Protection to a Product

Using the information above, you can match attributes of an invention to the suitable intellectual property type(s). The assistance of a seasoned attorney is always helpful, especially to help determine the cost of protection versus its potential value. Many things can be protected by multiple types of intellectual property. For example, a car is usually protected by both utilitarian and non-utilitarian types of intellectual property as shown below:

Without intellectual property protection everything is free to copy. After conceiving your invention, determine which types of intellectual property are best suited to keep competitors at bay. Then obtain the appropriate protection and monetize your invention.
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Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Inside Counsel Breaking News
Date:Jul 24, 2015
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