If you’re a California business owner, it’s understandable that you want to do everything you can to protect your assets. Business can be cut-throat, especially if you have an edge over competitors. This sometimes tempts others to commit unlawful acts to try to gain the upper hand, such as stealing intellectual property (IP) or infringing your rights. To fight against these types of dirty business dealings, you can start by gaining a clear understanding of how California law defines intellectual property.
California intellectual property laws protect your innovative and creative works. The broad categories of IP include trademarks, patents, copyrights and trade secrets. When a specific issue arises, it’s best to determine which category of IP it belongs to so that you can then determine what options you have to resolve the problem. Intellectual property includes things like images, designs, ideas, recipes, ingredients, patterns, music, software and more.
Copyrights are only relevant to tangible items
You cannot hold an idea in your hand. It is an intangible asset. Intangible assets are not copyrighted. To obtain a copyright, you must have a “fixed work,” otherwise referred to as a tangible item. This area of law can be quite complex, however. For example, if you’re a musician giving a live concert, you cannot copyright the show.
If the show is recorded and made available on a DVD, it is then able to be copyrighted because it is in a tangible form. If you have a copyright, no one else can reproduce your work. You can display it or perform it (in the case of music or drama). You are also the only one who can distribute or sell your copyrighted work. Intellectual property is often governed by federal law. A copyright infringement claim, in particular, must be brought in federal court, which has exclusive jurisdiction in this area of law.
Trademarks promote goods and services
A trademark is a symbol or phrase or word that is used to promote a particular product. Most business owners incorporate trademarks into their brand. A popular trademark becomes easily recognizable. If you have a registered trademark, no other person can take the same symbol or logo or phrase, etc., and use it to market his or her own product or business.
What to do if you encounter IP legal problems
What if someone accuses your business of stealing their trademark or other IP? It pays to conduct thorough research before launching a domain or product or service, etc., to check whether it is already registered to another business. Does this mean that if someone uses a checkmark as part of their brand, no one else can ever use a checkmark in a business name or logo? Not necessarily—it depends on several factors, such as whether the check mark logo is stylized or part of a larger registered mark, among other issues.
“Likelihood of confusion” is the primary issue regarding trademark infringement. Also, it is possible to have a trademark that is not registered; the rights associated with it would be based on usage. Rather than try to handle IP theft or infringement issues on your own, it pays to seek additional support from someone who understands California intellectual property laws.