Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer

Intellectual Property: What it is and how to protect it

Intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, service marks, trade names, copyrights and trade secrets, can be an important and commercially valuable asset. Maximum protection for your intellectual property can be obtained through registration where appropriate, by negotiating and drafting protective provisions in employment and commercial contracts, or by policing your intellectual property rights through the courts.

A trademark is a symbol, word or slogan used to identify and distinguish goods in the market place as to source, quality and good will. Service marks are identical to trademarks except that they are used in connection with services (for instance, insurance or financial services). Copyright refers to the legal right of the author or owner of original works of authorship to control or prohibit use of such property. Copyright protection begins automatically from the time a work is created in fixed form. Availability of the protections does not depend on any kind of registration, though there are advantages to registering a work with the United States Copyright Office.

A patent provides an inventor (or assignees) with the exclusive right to exclude others from making, selling or using the patented device or process in the United States for a period of 17 years (14 years in the case of ornamental design patents). Under federal law, infringement of a patent entitles the owner of the patent to seek an injunction prohibiting the infringing use and compensation for damages caused by the infringement.

Unlike trademarks, copyrights and patents, trade secrets are a mystery to many people. Trade secrets include a wide range of information. Under Virginia law, a trade secret can consist of "information, including but not limited to, a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process. " In order to be protected by law, the information must not be generally known or discoverable by others, must be economically valuable to the owner, and must be the subject of reasonable efforts to keep the information secret. Many business people may not realize the extent to which trade secrets law can protect business assets.

Joseph W. Milam, Jr.
Mr. Milam is a principal with the Firm

Was this helpful?

Copied to clipboard