Intellectual property is a nuanced area of law that can confuse business owners and entrepreneurs. This lack of understanding is a problem because it’s vital to know how to safeguard your intellectual property (IP). Many are familiar with the concept of a patent, which grants property rights to an inventor. But is that enough legal protection for your intellectual property?

What a patent does and doesn’t do

The United States Patent and Trademark Office requires all patent applicants to submit comprehensive explanatory details about their invention. Inventors must reveal what they’ve created in full to protect it from others. While it is active, a patent defends your intellectual property against all infringement, including independent discovery. In other words, should someone independently create the same thing you are protecting, they are unable to use it. A patent also protects intellectual property if it becomes public knowledge. This eliminates the need for secrecy. It’s important to note that a patent does not give you exclusive rights forever. Patents expire, usually about 20 years from the filing date.

How trade secret protection complements a patent

Trade secret protection safeguards not only inventions but also information, including but not limited to a formula, program, method or process. The trade secret must be business-related and give the holder an economic advantage in the marketplace. One benefit of protecting a trade secret is that the court will instruct anyone who discovers it to not only keep silent but potentially pay royalties to you. The most significant advantage to defending your intellectual property with trade secret protection is that—unlike patents—trade secrets do not expire. The exception being if the intellectual property leaks into the marketplace. In this case, trade secret protection is void. Since a patent protects independent discovery, these protections are most useful together.

Your intellectual property is likely one of your greatest assets. Shield it with the proper and appropriate protections in order to preserve your company’s future.