Intellectual Property 101

There’s a lot of talk about protecting your “IP”, which is the cool kids way of referring to “Intellectual Property.”

But what is IP, exactly?

Lin Eleoff, Esq.Intellectual Property is a creation of the human intellect. It’s intangible… you can’t touch it or feel it. IP is your original idea or concept for… a story, a design, a business name, a slogan, a literary or artistic work, a symbol, a blog post, a formula, a machine, an audio or video recording, an invention… that is used in commerce.

It’s important to note that ideas themselves cannot be legally protected. IP protection requires that the idea or concept become something that can be consumed or used by a consumer, for example: a book, a website, an image.

The IP itself is intangible but what becomes of it is entirely up to its creator. It can be turned into a book (tangible) or a blog post (intangible), a physical product (tangible) or a service (intangible). It’s value doesn’t depend on tangibility but whether it could be considered an asset in commerce.

For online business owners it becomes more difficult to identify what qualifies as an “intangible commercial asset.” Here are some guidelines:

  1. You must be able to “identify” the asset within the business (even if it can’t actually be “touched” or “tasted”–for example, an audio recording), and be able to show proof that the asset actually exists;
  2. One must be able to trace the original idea for the asset back to its original creator (you!);
  3. You must be able to assign a dollar value to the asset, or some other sort of quantifiable value.
  4. The asset must qualify as something that can be legally protected.

How to Protect Your Intellection Property…

Generally, a company’s intangible assets become protected Intellectual Property in the United States under the following laws:

  • U.S. Copyright Law
  • U.S. Trademark Law
  • U.S. Patent Law
  • Uniform Trade Secrets Act (state law)

…And When To Keep It A Secret

Remember this: An idea (a thought) cannot be legally protected. 

Since there’s no way to copyright or trademark your brain, you’d best keep your ideas a secret; if all you have is an idea and you share it with someone, without a signed NDA (non-disclosure agreement), that person could go out and turn your idea into a product or service and claim it as their own. This also applies if you’re hiring someone to turn your idea into a product or service–for example, someone who takes all the information from your head and turns it into an amazing 6-week digital course. Without a contract it’ll be a toss-up as to who owns the IP.

In a nutshell, until you are able to legally secure your original work, you and your IP are vulnerable. Start by doing an “asset audit” so that you don’t open yourself up to lawsuits and/or leave money on the table.

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