It is important for new business owners to understand common intellectual property terms.

Be sure to understand your intellectual property terms

April 26, 2013 11:51 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Most of us have heard terms like "patent," "trademark," "copyright" and "trade secret" before, though we may not completely understand them. However, as this blog has discussed previously, new business owners can run into legal trouble with competitors if they are not aware of the rights associated with their products. It is important for those seeking to go into business to recognize the differences between these important intellectual property terms.

Patents are rights granted by the government to inventors who agree to share details of their inventions to the public in exchange for limited legal protection. These inventions include items, systems or processes. For example, Apple has a patent for the iPhone's "swipe to unlock" feature, which allows users to access their phones by quickly swiping the screen with their finger. While patents do not actually give inventors the right to use or sell their inventions, they do prohibit others from doing so during the term of the patent. In the U.S., patents filed on or after June 8, 1995 last for 20 years.

Copyright protects creative or artistic work that includes novels, songs, paintings, photographs, television shows, movies and even software. Copyright holders are entitled to royalties for their work, and copyrights typically last the life of the creator plus a set number of years. Many copyrighted works require the creator's permission to be copied, though "fair use" laws do allow for some reproduction as long as the creator is credited.

Trademarks identify unique product or service names belonging to businesses or individuals, and prevent others from using those identifiers. A trademark may remain in effect for as long as the holder wishes, but unused trademarks typically cease to be effective after a period of years in most legal jurisdictions.

Trade secrets are information that give businesses competitive advantages. One of the most well-known examples is the secret recipe for Coca-Cola syrup. Unlike the previous three terms, trade secrets are not revealed to the public. Though, like trademarks, they may theoretically last forever, there is little recourse if a competitor discovers the secret through reverse engineering.

Those who need business law help are encouraged to seek out a Phoenix small business attorney.

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