If you’re the owner of an e-commerce shop, you deal with intellectual property everyday. Intellectual property refers to the creations of the human mind. This includes symbols, images, names, inventions, and literary and artistic works. Intellectual property rights refer to the exclusive rights given to the creator for a specific period of time. This right allows creators, or owners, to benefit from their own work or investment in a creation.
It is the creators’ responsibility to defend their intellectual property. Like any other asset, it is important to protect your intellectual property right. Generally, if you are self-employed, you own the intellectual property, even if someone else did the work. However, rights can be granted in the other party if your contract allows it. If the intellectual property was created as part of your employment for someone else, you will likely not own the intellectual property.
What Intellectual Property Should be Protected?
Intellectual property rights afford creators and owners the confidence to collaborate with or invest in others and allow them to maximize the value of their right by licensing or franchising their creation. Intellectual property is typically divided into two categories:
- Industrial Property – Trademarks, patents, industrial designs, and geographical indications;
- Trademark. A trademark is a symbol, design, word, phrase, or a combination thereof that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one company from those of other companies.
- Patent. A patent is a property right granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) relating to an invention in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. This right is granted for a limited time. Patentable materials include any new and useful machine, process, manufacture, or composition of matter.
- Industrial Designs. An industrial design is what makes an article attractive and appealing.
- Geographical Indications. A geographical indication is a sign used on goods that have a specific place of origin and possesses qualities or a reputation due to that place of origin. These are typically used on agricultural products.
- Copyright – A copyright protects the original works of authorship including music, literary works, films, artistic works, and architectural designs. Copyright also refers to rights in performing artists in their performances, producers of phonograms in their recordings, and broadcasters in their radio and television programs.
When to Protect Your Intellectual Property
Let’s say that you have an idea for an invention. Great, but you’re thinking “it’s just an idea” or “I’m not ready to move forward with anything yet”. It’s still not too early. You should protect your idea from the moment you have the idea. For one thing, protecting your intellectual property makes it easier to take legal action against someone who is stealing or copying your work without your permission. Here are some other reasons to protect your intellectual property:
- It’s easier than you think. Protecting your intellectual property may seem intimidating and unnecessary, but protecting your work, and ultimately your business, is worth it. With copyrights, protection is automatic. Although the copyright does not protect an idea, it does protect the way the idea is represented – by writing it down, for example. Applying for a patent is done through the USPTO, and can be cheaper than you think. It can be done with a patent attorney or on your own.
- Protect your business growth. Your business is unique – protect it! When you do not protect your business, you risk the chance of competitors using your work for their own benefit. This could result in a loss of revenue for you. Remember, it’s your responsibility to ensure that no one is infringing on your intellectual property right.
- You’ll save time and money. The laws governing intellectual property are designed to recognize and protect your exclusive ownership. This helps ensure that you will profit from your work.
- If you don’t, your competitor will. There is legitimate and predatory competition. One person may legitimately be the “first to file“. If this happens, you could lose your ability to profit from your idea or invention. Others are “trolls”. Generally, trolls focus on highly beneficial intellectual property created by small business owners because they know some cannot afford to litigate the issue.
How often should an e-commerce shop copyright its site?
Items on your website, like pictures, videos, artwork, etc. may be protected by copyright. The Internet makes copying these items easy – anyone can search the web “copying & pasting” or saving whatever they like. As a business owner, you want to make sure that your work is protected and that your employees are not using the protected work of others.
As stated earlier, copyright protection is automatic, but registering the copyright makes it easier to take action against someone. To register a copyright, you must submit the following:
- A completed and signed application,
- A copy of the to material to be copyrighted (different materials require different forms), and
- A filing fee.
E-commerce shop owners can be victims of copyright infringement. It may be enough to mark your website with “All Rights Reserved” or use the copyright symbol to deter potential offenders. Under the laws governing intellectual property, copyright protection expires seventy years following the death of the person initially responsible for creating and registering the work. If the work was published anonymously, the copyright will expire ninety-five years after the item was published or 120 years after it was created.
Intellectual Property Audits For E-Commerce Shops
One of an e-commerce company’s most valuable business assets is intellectual property (IP) rights. They are integral for protecting the company’s position in the market and can have immense value if they are properly obtained, managed, and enforced. Periodically, e-commerce shops should conduct IP audits to understand what rights they have, the scope of protections that they offer, and thus what value the IP assets have for the company.
What is an IP Audit?
An IP audit is a process by which a company can develop a clear understanding of what intellectual property rights it owns, similar to taking an inventory of any asset the company owns. Additionally, an IP audit clearly assesses the scope and breadth of the rights that each piece of IP confers, and identifies what other protections are needed to secure value in the intellectual property owned by the company.
Managing your e-commerce shop’s intellectual property is just as important as managing your business. Having comprehensive intellectual property protection is desirable and can be highly valuable to a company. Carefully picking and choosing what IP rights are important, and how much scope they have can carve out a section of the market that is exclusively held by your company.