As a businessperson, you have likely come up with ideas, products or designs which you want to protect. Your colleagues or competitors may want to take credit for or steal your innovations. But intellectual property (IP) laws will keep them from successfully doing so.

IP constitutes any product you imagine or create. And trademarks, patents and copyrights protect them from appropriation by unauthorized users. The challenge with defending IP is that by common law, it qualifies as a public good.

There are four main types of IP upon which others could infringe. Depending on your business, you might have to work with all them at one point or another.

Copyrights

If you copyright your work, you have the exclusive domain to disseminate, publish, reproduce or sell it. These rights extend beyond written material and apply to art, film, recordings and design as well. Yet copyright does not protect your ideas themselves, only the expression of them.

Patents

If you devise a design, process or product, you will file a patent to protect your right as its legal creator. Patents grant you the exclusive right to make, sell, use and distribute your innovations at the exclusion of others. But having a patent for your product doesn’t mean you can use it. And if someone else has already patented a part of your product, that could then prevent you from manufacturing or selling it.

Trademarks

Trademarks protect logos and names that identify or represent your company. By registering these symbols as trademarks, other businesses cannot use them or their likenesses. Yet even though your business’s name falls under this law, you cannot trademark common words or phrases for its use. Nor can you trademark products, which would fall subject to patents instead.

Trade secrets

Trade secrets are the processes, formulas or techniques that help your company’s product stand apart from others. IP laws protect this information from leaking to competitors. Yet you may have an employee who leaves your company and decides to bring your secrets along with them. Doing so is illegal because it aids a competitor at the expense of your business.

IP laws safeguard the ideas you express, products you devise and formulas you create. Yet you must apply for patents and register trademarks and copyrights to do so. Working with a lawyer who has IP experience can help you protect your innovations.