What is IP?
Intellectual property (IP) refers to artistic and commercial assets that have been created such as music, literature, symbols, designs, phrases, and inventions. Such property can be owned and protected from unauthorized use by means of copyrights (music/literature), trademarks (brand names/designs), patents (inventions), and other intellectual property rights.
If it sounds like, or looks like, another...
Infringement occurs when-without permission-you use materials for which intellectual property rights have been secured by someone else. The owner of the material has the right to demand that you cease use, and costly litigation can result if you don't.
The existence of intellectual property creates two requirements that are often neglected by nonprofit organizations when resources (personnel or monetary) are limited:
- One is to ensure that the creative materials selected are available for legal use.
- The second is to protect the materials your organization creates such as the name or logo.
In the end, anything similar in sight, sound, or commercial impression to another may cause an issue.
How do I avoid a costly mistake?
Do your due diligence. At the most basic level, obtain permission to use creative materials that indicate they may be copyrighted or appear to belong to another entity. Symbols such as these are obvious, but not exclusive indicators: ®, ©, ™. Be prepared. Permission may involve a fee for use. If you are not willing to pay, seek out royalty free stock images (such as shutterstock.com or istockphoto.com), make use of music and literature that is in the
, or create your own unique material.
When creating your own material, first, spend some time searching for other materials in use that may be similar to what you intend to use. Research what might be considered too similar versus something that is similar but distinct to your product or service. Names, for example, can often be used by more than one entity depending on location and industry. A Google search is a good start. The
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database
is also a useful tool. However, prior to fully engaging the new material, enlisting the assistance of an IP Law attorney will help ensure you will not have a conflict.
If you create your own material, it is in your best interest to secure intellectual property rights for it. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has an application process for protecting your intellectual property. It is a relatively easy process, but there is a cost involved. And, in our experience, there is no absolute guarantee of complete protection. Nevertheless, if you are planning to make a change to your material, it's worth investing in available protection.