Business owners are often concerned about protecting their ideas and products from being used by someone else. No business owner wants someone else to profit from their good ideas. There are four basic ways that business owners can protect their inventions and products under the law. Most of the protections for intellectual property fall under Federal law, however, Minnesota law does have special protections for trade secrets.
One way for a business owner or inventor to protect his or her inventions is by applying for a patent. A patent gives an inventor the exclusive right to prevent others from making, using, or selling the invention. In order to apply for a patent, an invention must be new, useful, and non-obvious. Patents are good for 20 years under the 2013 change to Federal law. Applying for a patent is a fairly arduous procedure, depending on the complexity of the invention, and a business owner interested in applying for a patent should consult an attorney.
Business owners will also want to protect any trademarks that they create as a part of their marketing and branding. A trademark is a distinctive sign used by a business or individual to identify their goods or services. For example, a trademark could be a logo the business has created. By applying for trademark protection a business owner can prevent others from using similar marks that may be confusing to customers.
Another type of intellectual property protection is copyright. Copyright protection gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it. This time period is the author’s life plus 70 years. If the copyright is infringed upon the owner of the copyright can sue the infringer. Copyrights are frequently used by authors and musicians to protect their works.
Business owners frequently want to protect trade secrets as well. A trade secret is any confidential business information that is not known to the public. Business owners typically protect these secrets through the use of confidentiality and non-disclosure contracts. Minnesota law very specifically defines trade secrets under Section 325C.01 as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, devices, method, technique, or process that (i) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and (ii) is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstance to maintain its secrecy”. Minnesota business owners can protect trade secrets but only if the business owner takes the proper steps to treat documents as confidential and notifies employees of the status.
Business owners may find intellectual property rules to be difficult to understand on their own. Additionally, recent changes to Federal law have changed the way businesses apply for patents. Business owners interested in seeking intellectual property protection for their ideas and products should seek the services of a business law attorney, who can draft contracts, apply for patents and advise business owners regarding their rights.