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What does a business owner need to know about intellectual property?

Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, and Trade Secrets

Most business owners understand that the real value of their business isn’t in tangible assets. That is, the inventory, office or store space (typically a lease), furniture, shelves, even the delivery truck, is not what adds value to their business. Instead, it is the intangible assets that really add value to the business. Intangible assets such as, well-trained employees, effective managers, a head chef at a restaurant.

But it’s the intangible assets such as, a secret sauce, a manner of doing business, a brand, that often add the most value to a business. These intangible assets often take a lot of time and investment to develop, and without these, the business may not be successful. These intangible assets are referred to, in the legal world, as intellectual property. So even if you didn’t think that you had any intellectual property, chances are now that you understand what intellectual property is, you recognize as a business owner that you do have intellectual proprety.

Specifically, the “secret sauce” is considered a trade secret (as are customer lists, vendor lists, and so forth). The manner of doing business and the brand may be marketed under what is considered a trademark (as are the names, tag lines, and graphic logos). Restaurant menus, websites, and brochures may all be protected by copyright.

Trade Secrets. A trade secret is anything that can be maintained as confidential (and typically by protecting it from competitors, also adds an edge to your business over competitors). There is no formal or government registration required. However, if a trade secret becomes known publicly, then it is no longer protected under the trade secret laws.

Trademarks: A trademark is a name, tag line, graphic (or logo), or combination of these, that designates the source of goods or services in commerce. When used in interstate commerce, the trademark can be registered with the US Trademark Office. Otherwise, state registration may be available.

Copyrights: A copyright protects original works of authorship. Copyright does not protect an idea in your head. The authorship must be reduced to a tangible medium, such as a recorded song, a written story, a picture painted on a canvas, or words typed on a website.

Patents: A patent protects an invention. The invention must be novel and non-obvious in order to receive patent protection from the US Patent Office. There are no state registrations for patents.

Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, and Trade Secrets

For more information, please read Mark Trenner’s article “Top four ways to add value to your business” published in CoBiz Magazine.

What should a business trademark?

Trademarks - BrandsI have so many things to trademark – where do I start?

I get this question all the time. First, keep in mind that the strength of a brand is in its ability to distinguish a product or service from similar products being offered by others. Think of any famous brand (Starbucks(R), McDonald’s(R), or other famous trademark). While these companies may have multiple trademarks, they put the most effort into marketing only a few of these brands.

Most trademark attorneys will recommend a Clearance Search and Opinion – Using someone’s else’s mark can result in a trademark infringement action!

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Patent Attorney In Denver Discusses Patent Ownership For Employees – Part 3 of 3

Patent Attorney In Denver Discusses Patent Ownership For Employees – Part 3 of 3

Interviewer: Should inventors take their ideas to the company they are working for?

Patent Attorney: Many companies have procedures in place for evaluating intellectual property internally. Sometimes the company may release rights to an invention if it has no value to the company.

Interviewer: So even if I am required to assign my invention to my employer, they might let me keep it?

Patent Attorney: Every company is going to have their own policy, but it’s certainly a possibility.

Interviewer: Any other tips?

Patent Attorney: Check the Employee Handbook, the company intra-net, and any other materials the company may have given you to determine if there is a procedure in place for dealing with intellectual property. If there is, determine whether you are required to assign over rights to you invention.

Interviewer: So even if I’m required to sign over some types of inventions to my employer, I may not be required to assign over other types of inventions?

Patent Attorney: That’s right. An employer may have no interest in your invention if it is unrelated to the business of the employer. Or an inventor’s position with a company may not require that they assign over rights to their invention.

Interviewer: And I suppose you’re going to say to talk to a patent attorney for specific advice?

Patent Attorney: Of course – the law governing assignment of ownership rights in inventions is going to depend on the specific circumstances, whether there is a written agreement, and the laws may even vary by state.

Interviewer: Thank you, I think that’s all we have time for today. For more information, be sure to visit Trenner Law Firm’s website at and Mark Trenner’s blog over at