I've Got a Trade Secret

Four types of intellectual property protection, including trade secrets

Trade Secret

A formula, pattern, device or compilation of data that grants the user an advantage over competitors that do not know it is a trade secret. It is covered by state, rather than federal, laws. To protect the secret, a business must prove it adds value to the company

that it is, in fact, a secretand that appropriate measures have been taken within the company to safeguard the secret, such as restricting knowledge to a select handful of executives. Success story: Coca-Cola has successfully managed to keep its formula under wraps for more than 117 years.

Patent:

When you register your invention with the government, a process that can take more than a year, you get the legal right to exclude anyone else from manufacturing or marketing it. Patents cover tangible things. They can be registered in foreign countries, a practice that helps keep competitors from finding out what your company is doing. Once you hold a patent, others can apply to license your product. Patents last for 20 years. They can be renewed, but if a company allows a patent to expire, it loses the right to keep others from marketing that invention.

Trademark

A trademark is a name, phrase, sound or symbol used in association with services or products. It often connects a brand with a level of quality on which companies build a reputation. Trademark protection lasts for 10 years after registration and, like patents, can be renewed. But trademarks don't have to be registered. If a company creates a symbol or name it wishes to use exclusively, it can simply attach the TM symbol, which effectively marks the territory and gives the company room to prosecute if other companies attempt to use the same symbol for their own purposes.

Copyright

Copyright laws protect written or artistic expressions fixed in a tangible medium: novels, poems, songs or movies. A copyright protects the expression of an idea but not the idea itself. The owner of a copyrighted work has the right to reproduce it, to make derivative works from it (such as making a movie based on a book), or to sell, perform or display the work to the public. You don't need to register your material to hold a copyright, but registration is a prerequisite if you decide to sue for copyright infringement. A copyright lasts for the life of the author plus another 50 years.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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