by Deborah Sweeney | Featured Contributor
The average person usually doesn’t know much about intellectual property law. They can probably rattle off what a patent is, or what a copyright does, but that’d plumb the depth of their knowledge. And that’s fine – IP law is notoriously complex. The problem is that so many people continue to believe old myths about intellectual property protection because they don’t know any better. So, to help dispel old rumors and hopefully answer a few lingering questions about intellectual property protection, I decided to breakdown four of the most common myths I hear.
Myth 1. You can patent an idea
You cannot patent an idea – plain and simple. Having an idea doesn’t make you an inventor. You have to show that idea could be made into something – it has to be developed and proven. Now don’t get me wrong, the idea stage is very important, but you cannot just stop there. Otherwise people would be patenting all sorts of outlandish ideas without ever figuring out a way to develop them, and creating something new would be a complete headache.
Myth 2. If you register an IP in the USA, you’re protected worldwide
A United States patent, trademark, or copyright will normally only protect your idea in the United States. Different countries have different laws for intellectual property protection. Thankfully, there are some international treaties that do make protecting IP in foreign countries a bit easier. The World Intellectual Property Organization can help you navigate international patent and trademark protection, and the US Copyright Office has signed treaties with foreign nations to respect foreign copyrights.
Myth 3. Markings and notices are irrelevant
Notices and marking may not be legally required to claim ownership of an IP, but it is still wise to include them. You technically own a trademark once you use it on the market, and a copyright is yours once the artistic work is put down in a tangible form. However, including a notice or marking informs everyone you are claiming ownership of that IP, which makes enforcing that ownership easier and helps you defend against claims of ‘innocent infringement.’ Further, the federal government only allows the use of the ® symbol for trademarks registered with the USPTO and, if you don’t use it, you could forfeit your right to recover damages.
Myth 4. Postmarks can replace patents and copyrights
I’ve been asked if this one is true more times than I can count. Often called the poor-man’s patent, or the poor-man’s copyright, the idea is that if you stick your idea in an envelope and mail it to yourself, you can prove the idea was yours based on the date on the postmark. Not only is this a total myth, it could wind up hurting you. In order to be patentable, and invention has to be actively developed and practiced. All your self-addressed letter would show is that, at some point in the past, you mailed an idea to yourself and then never developed it. As far as copyrights are concerned, you have rights to it the minute it’s put into a tangible form. You should still register it with the US Copyright Office though – postmarks still haven’t been established as valid proof for right of ownership.
Proper intellectual property protection is vitally important, which is why these sorts of rumors are so harmful. Your ideas, brand, and inventions are what your business is built on. Whenever possible talk to a professional, review your IPs, and see what you can do to shield yourself from infringement.
Deborah Sweeney – Legal Expert, CEO, MyCorporation.com – Calabasas, CA
As CEO of MyCorporation Business Services, Inc. (MyCorporation.com), Deborah Sweeney is an advocate for protecting personal and business assets for business owners and entrepreneurs. With her experience in the fields of corporate and intellectual property law, Deborah has evolved from lawyer to business owner. She has extensive experience in the start-up and entrepreneurial industry as she has been involved in the formation of hundreds of thousands of businesses for MyCorporation.com’s customers.
Ms. Sweeney received her JD & MBA degrees from Pepperdine University. She is active in the community and loves working with students and aspiring entrepreneurs. She serves on the Board of Regents at California Lutheran University and is a founding member of Partners of Pepperdine. Deborah has served as an adjunct professor at the University of West Los Angeles and San Fernando School of Law in the areas of corporate and intellectual property law. Ms. Sweeney is also well-recognized for her written work online as a contributing writer with top business and entrepreneurial blogging sites. She is a regular contributor on Forbes, American Express, Social Media Today, and BlogHer among many others.
In her ‘free’ time, Deborah enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons, Benjamin (8) and Christopher (6). Deborah believes in the importance of family and credits the entrepreneurial business model for giving her the flexibility to enjoy both a career and motherhood. Follow her on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.