Business owners, inventors, start-ups, and artists all have something in common. They will need legal advice at some point during their creative ventures. Legal issues can arise when competitors try to steal trade secrets or use creative works without permission. Small businesses use intellectual property lawyers for business legal services and intellectual property law (IP law).
An IP attorney helps with the intellectual property legal needs of a business. These legal professionals can focus on copyright law, patent law, trademark applications, and preparing licensing agreements. This article overviews what an IP lawyer can do for you and what you should look for when hiring one.
Types of Intellectual Property Law
Intellectual property law allows artists, inventors, and creators to profit from their creative works or new products. Copyrights and patents allow artists and inventors to stop anyone else from selling their creations.
There are four types of legal services an intellectual property lawyer can give legal advice on:
- Copyrights: Copyright protection happens at the creation of creative works in a fixed medium. Federal registration of the work happens through the United States Copyright Office. Intellectual property attorneys sue people or businesses for copyright infringement.
- Trademarks: Trademarks are symbols of vendors, such as brand names or logos, that allow consumers to easily distinguish one vendor from another. Service marks are unique brand name or logo that identifies a service, not a product. Trademark infringement cases are legal actions brought under trademark law. Federal protection happens only if the United States Patent and Trademark Office grants an application. These cases happen when a competing business or person uses the mark protected by trademark registration without permission.
- Patents: The U.S. Patent Office issues patents for new, novel, and non-obvious inventions, processes, or manufacturing. Only patent attorneys or patent agents submit patent applications to the USPTO.
- Trade secrets: Trade secrets involve a manufacturing process that is secret from the rest of the world. Manufacturers work to keep their operations secure so that no one else can duplicate it.
How to Find an Intellectual Property Attorney
Do your due diligence and research potential lawyers that best fit your business and personality. You want a lawyer who has a juris doctorate and went to an accredited law school. Your state's bar association has a list of all current and active patent lawyers, trademark attorneys, and copyright attorneys.
Questions To Consider When Choosing an IP Attorney
One size does not fit all when picking out your company's lawyer. Here are some questions you want to think about before signing a retainer contract with an attorney:
- How are fees paid? Some lawyers ask for payment in full before they begin work. Others will accept payment plans with a deposit up front. Knowing what the attorney expects is essential so you can budget for it.
- Can you pay with cash, credit card, or online payments? If your start-up is not flowing with cash, you can connect a credit card or Venmo to pay your invoices.
- Is the attorney billing hourly or at a flat rate?
- What is the attorney's hourly rate?
- Has the lawyer handled all types of intellectual property, or do they focus on one area, like patents?
Related Intellectual Property Law Practice Areas
Once you have a client relationship with an intellectual property lawyer, you can use them to protect your work. The following are common legal needs your IP lawyer can help you with or refer you to another lawyer who can help you.
- Entertainment, sports, and leisure law: Nearly every artist, actor, or filmmaker must copyright their work or negotiate licensing or work-for-hire contracts.
- Corporate and business law: Many intellectual property owners are corporations or businesses that own rights to their employees' work. A nondisclosure agreement is a contract that bars one party from disclosing trade secrets to anyone else. These lawyers also negotiate work-for-hire clauses in employee or contractor agreements. A work made for hire is a creation that an artist made while working for someone else and owned by the employer.
- Cyberlaw: The internet's ability to copy and distribute work raises new challenges to IP law.
- First Amendment law: Copyrights and patents sometimes impede the free flow of information and ideas.
- Real estate law: You may buy land to build a warehouse or new corporate headquarters.
Need Help Protecting Your Intellectual Property Rights?
It's beneficial to meet with a lawyer to register trademarks, discuss patents on new products, or copyright social media content. They can help you understand your options and how to protect your rights best. Find an intellectual property attorney to protect what you have worked hard to create.