Legal Guide

7 Essential Steps for Protecting Your Intellectual Property in the Digital Age

Intellectual property (IP) rights have always been critical to the success of the people or businesses that hold them. And that is nothing if not increasingly true in the digital age due to the ease with which they can be violated.

Digitalization has affected all forms of media. Even if it only exists in paper form, a book can be easily scanned and distributed online to the world in just a few hours. Music can travel between computers in practically the blink of an eye. And artwork, even owned by the most influential companies, appears on tens of thousands of websites without its rights having been purchased or even attribution.

With all that being said, businesses need to proactively defend their IPs if they want to maintain their rights to them. Massive businesses like Disney can require an army of lawyers and a whole department to keep up.

But even if you don’t own a giant corporation, don’t despair. You can still take the following seven steps to protect your IP:

1. Seek Professional Legal Advice

Before creating a plan to protect your IP, you should consult with an IP litigation attorney. They can help you develop a strategy tailored to the needs of your business and the IP you maintain.

Having an experienced IP litigation lawyer on-call is also critical if you need to file a lawsuit. Digital IP litigation is complex, and the average civil litigator will need more tools to handle these cases.

2. Understand Your Intellectual Property Rights

Before creating an IP, you should understand that there are four types of IP, which are as follows:

  • Copyrights: Protection of artistic works, like writing or movies
  • Patents: Protection of inventions
  • Trademarks: Protection of unique images, designs, or slogans that define a product or company
  • Trade Secrets: Practices or processes that a business uses that aren’t known outside the company

Each follows different rules and must be enforced in different ways. Therefore, it is preferable to consult with an IP lawyer.

3. Effective IP Registration and Documentation

The registration of each type of IP is different. And even though the process is usually longer than you may want it to be, it’s worth it. You should avoid using any IP until it is properly registered, as doing so makes it harder for anyone to contest your registration. Furthermore, you should maintain organized documentation of all IP assets, as that will let you track when your rights end and whether you have the option to renew them.

4. Implement Robust Digital Security Measures

Some IPs, like trademarks, must go out into the wild after a set time. And when they do, they will be public and relatively easy to copy, no matter what security measures you implement.

Thankfully, robust digital security measures can protect other types of IP. Setting up strong security like encryption and access controls often costs quite a bit, but it should save you money in the long run by preventing breaches.

5. Educate and Train Your Team

Digital security only works if your people understand how to protect your IP. Therefore, you should hold staff training that covers the following:

  • Tips for recognizing scams or potential breaches
  • Safe data handling procedures
  • Proper use of the IP
  • An explanation of staff members’ roles in protecting the IP

Many IP breaches occur due to social hacking, but proper training can prevent that.

6. Monitor and Enforce Your IP Rights

As a general rule of thumb, if you don’t defend your IP rights, you lose them. That means you need to implement procedures to monitor the illicit use of your IP and enforce your rights immediately when they are violated. Typically, doing so will involve sending cease-and-desist letters or pursuing litigation against egregious actors.

7. Leverage Intellectual Property Management Software

You can hire a team of professionals to protect your IP or pay some money and stand on the shoulders of giants. IP management software should streamline the process of monitoring IP usage and responding to it swiftly.

Protecting Your IP Is Important to the Success of Your Business

IPs like trademarks and patents are critical to your business's success. But if you aren’t proactive about consulting with a lawyer and creating strategies to defend them, bad actors could easily co-opt them. At the end of the day, it’s better to create a plan and implement it than to be caught up in expensive litigation that could take years to resolve.

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