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What is intellectual property?

As a small business owner in Westminster, you need to take full advantage of every resource at your disposal in order to stay competitive. That includes the unique ideas, processes, symbols or brands that are used in your business. So what happens when one of your competitors copies one or more of those unique elements and starts incorporating them into its operations? Can it do so without your permission or having to compensate you for their use? 

The answer to that question comes down to determining what exactly qualifies as intellectual property. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, IP consists of any creations of the mind that are used in commerce. Common examples of IP include: 

  • Copyrights
  • Patents 
  • Trademarks 
  • Industrial designs
  • Geographical indications

If an element used in commerce qualifies as IP, then it cannot simply be used by others with your permission. The important thing to remember here, however, is that each of the aforementioned examples involves some form of formal registration. That means that in order for your IP to be protected, it has to be registered through the appropriate government catalog. For example, if a competitor begins using a variation of your company logo, yet you have not copyrighted that material, then you may not be able to seek injunctive relief against its use because it is not listed in the U.S. Copyright Catalog. 

The same holds true with your unique business processes. Yet how can you own an idea or process? A utility patent recognizes you as the originator of a useful and improved product, process or machine. Once you have that, others cannot employ the same process without your authorization.  

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