How to Protect Intellectual Property


As a business owner, your main concern is to protect all things valuable to you – your business, your assets, your team, and most importantly, your creations and ideas. Business people and startups are, and should be, very protective of ideas that spark from their minds because those ideas stem from their passions and become the heart of their business. So, how do you go about in protecting an idea, concept, or overall representation of your business?  

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property (IP) is the way to protect the product of your own thought. Unlike the other assets and teams of employees that you might have, IP is not a tangible thing; rather it is its own category of intangible “property” that protects scientific and artistic works in the forms of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Each form of IP is designed to protect a specific type creative work, and is most effective in protecting innovations for different situations.

Different Types of Intellectual Property


There are 2 types of patents:

Utility Patents protects: Processes, devices, manufactures, machines, compositions of matter, certain business models, software that all have a utility.

Design Patents protects: Aesthetic, ornamental design features of a product. It protects the way a product looks.

How Long Do Patents Last? 20 years of exclusive use & sale from patent filing date.


Words, phrases, or symbols that represent the origins of a product or business (i.e. logos and brand names).

Also protects packaging and scents (e.g. blue Tiffany box)

How Long to Trademarks Last? 10-year terms, which can be renewed indefinitely as long as the mark is used.


“Works of Authorship”, including writings, musical compositions, recorded music, paintings, sculptures, film, architectures

How Long to Copyrights Last? Life + 70 years, or 90 years from publication, or 120 years from creation.

Trade Secrets

All subject matter covered by patents, copyrights, and other abstract ideas, laws of nature, natural phenomena, and raw data or information.

The Uniform Trade Secret Act, Section 14, defines protectable trade secret to include: “formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process”.

For example, the Coca-Cola formula is the most valuable and most famous trade secret known to date.

How to Protect Intellectual Property

Patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secret are the four main legal tools used to protect one’s IP. Each business uses a combination of patents, copyrights, and/or trademark to protect a single product, and work with IP attorneys to implement various strategies on how best to use these four types of IP to protect the business’s ideas. In addition to the four traditional forms of IP, there are additional steps that you, as a business owner or entrepreneur should take to safeguard your business’s IP portfolio:  

  1. Document Everything! – Keeping detailed records and documentations of business ideas, essentially, is a vital component in building an IP portfolio. It is incredibly important for business owners and entrepreneurs to document their business ideas with photographs, drawings, diagrams, blueprints, and prototypes in order to make it easier to secure a patent or trademark or copyright later.  
  2. Use IP designations in your business practice – Even before you obtain the legal IP protection of a patent or trademark or copyright, you can still use certain IP designations to let all others know that you are in the process of obtaining exclusive protection. You can use terms such as “patent pending, “TM” and “©” to show your competitors that you are on your way to protecting your ideas. The term “patent pending” lets other know that you have filed a patent application, and are in the process of obtaining a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark office (USPTO). The “TM” and “©” marks allow you to have common law trademark, for TM, and copyright, for ©, protection without getting a government registration from the USPTO or the United States Copyright Office.  
  3. Implement clear, concise Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) – The less people know about your ideas, the less likely those ideas will be stolen. The purpose of NDAs are to protect a business’s information by creating a contractual fence to keep such information confidential. That means that anyone and everyone who signs an NDA is held to the strictest confidentiality standard to refrain from using, disclosing, or selling any and all business information.  
  4. Most Confidential Information is Trade Secret – Trade secret refers to all proprietary information that creates a competitive advantage when kept secret; that is kept secret; and is protected by reasonable safeguards to maintain secrecy. No governmental registration process is applicable for trade secrets because trade secrets are, by design, never meant to be disclosed to anyone on the outside. The Coca-Cola formula, for example, is the most secretive and most valuable commercial formula in today’s consumer market. Why? Because the Coca-Cola Company does everything possible to make sure that the formula never gets into the hand of PepsiCo, Inc. or anyone else. Trade secret is protected both under state law in California, with the California Trade Secret Act (CTSA), and under federal law, with the Defend Trade Secret Act (DTSA). Like Coca-Cola, you can protect your IP with utmost secrecy to prevent other competitors from using your own ideas and information against you.  

At Slate Law, our IP practice focuses on assisting San Diego business owners and startups protect their own business IP. Our attorneys will closely will you to understand your business’s IP, help you figure out what IP you need to protect, and submit applications to the USPTO and/or U.S. Copyright Office on your behalf.

We care about your new ideas, and are here to help you protect your creations.

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