IP protection for fools

October 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

Key element of a company’s sustainable advantage is their intellectual property (IP). No matter which form chosen, these intangible assets can grow significant value. The first thing that comes to mind for most technologists when mentioning “intellectual property” is patents. But, there are four classes of IP that can be of value and considered for enhancing your company’s value in congruent ways. Laws regulate these different forms, and the costs are different.

  1. Copyrights and creative commons licensing
  2. Trademarks
  3. Trade secrets
  4. Patents

Copyrights and creative commons licensing

This protection is for original works of authorship expressed in tangible media. They do not protect ideas, systems, procedures, or discoveries. They do protect architectural drawings, multimedia, recorded music, databases, software, books, compositions, and choreographies like the ship of fools (ever since it ran at Consultants Camp 2009).

The manner in which it is expressed can be anything from numbers, words, images, sounds, and the embodiment optical, magnetic, ink on paper.

© lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years afterwards. Creative commons licensing lasts as long as we stick the license on, and is offered by a nonprofit organisation that increases sharing and improves collaboration.

Although items are considered protected at the time of creation, in some cases it may be best to register. Doesn’t cost much, for creative commons the costs are even 0, but the gains of doing so come to light in case of infringement. Example:

Work by Satir Workshops is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Also based on works at www.dtmms.org and http://druidry.org/. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.satirglobal.org.


This is something that is often undervalued by technologists. But, a name, logo, slogan, associated with a product, company or aggregate can gain goodwill and become a valuable asset. The thunderbird of Satir Workshops, and slogans like “Hoist the Folly Roger!” are examples, tho I don’t think it necessary.

A trademark can be registered through Patent and Trademark offices. A registered trademark is effective for ten years, and may be renewed. Trademark holders are responsible for monitoring the use of the trademark. Failure in doing so can have your trademark status be revoked.

Registering trademarks costs more than copyrighting, but is still relatively inexpensive. Most Trademark Offices have huge backlogs, so it may take a while. is what you use after registration until the ® status is granted.

Domain names and trademarking is still a hot issue. A domain name can qualify as a trademark when it is used in connection with a website that offers services to the public. Only some types of commercial domain names qualify for trademark protection. This includes all sites conducting e-commerce and sites such as search engines that provide internet related services.

Trade secrets

“Trade secret” means information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that:

  1. Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and
  2. Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.

For this no registration is required. Following agreed upon procedures to keep information confidential will do. Trade secrets would be financial statements, marketing plans, personal information, customer lists, formulation ingredients, software, and to-be-protected processes.

If used, pay attention to what policies and procedures are required for effective protection. Examples are non-disclosure agreements. And of course, some of those try to make it a one way street: “Everything you own is ours, and everything we own is too”. Make sure it is a two way street.


These are the most common for technologists, yet provisional patents are still not very known in technologist circles. Provisional patents will allow you to obtain an early filing date with not much formality and a much lower cost than with “normal” patents. Provisional patents are confidential and vanish in 12 months. Meaning, you’ll have 12 months for writing the non-provisional patent, or for gaining the edge.

Costly. Very. And from my Valley past, I have learned that patent business games and politics are major distractions from congruently serving customers and actually getting somewhere.


Tagged: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading IP protection for fools at Serendipity.


%d bloggers like this: