Lesson 8: Intellectual Property

What You’ll Learn: Ideas are currency in the world of business. From original works to cutting-edge inventions, you want to protect your work from theft, reverse engineering and dilution. Learn the ins and outs of copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets and how to protect your intellectual property.

Intellectual Property

“Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.”

Bill Gates


Great ideas are a rare commodity. They deserve to be protected, whether it’s a product you created, a new word you coined, a movie script you wrote or a new seasoning recipe that is so original it needs to be kept a secret from the competition.

In most cases, intellectual property (IP) issues should be handled by an attorney. Yes, there are some things you can do on your own, but knowing the finer points of intellectual property law, especially when it has national and international implications, requires an intellectual property attorney. They can help you navigate the often complicated and time-consuming process so that you can protect your work with the full force of law, which varies widely by country.

The following are the primary types of intellectual property protection you may need in your business. In reading through these sections, realize that no attempt has been made to provide any legal advice. These are simply guidelines, and there are always exceptions to the rules. When in doubt, seek the advice of an intellectual property attorney.


A copyright is used primarily for creative works, including literary works, computer programs, databases, films, music, choreography, art, photographs, architecture, advertisements, maps and technical drawings. You cannot copyright an idea, procedure, method of operation or a mathematical concept. Also, copyrights may not extend to titles, slogans or logos, depending on the circumstances.

There are two general protections offered in a copyright. There are economic rights, which allow the owner to derive a financial reward for the use of their original work, and moral rights, which protect the non-economic interests of the creator.

The economic rights not only provide for financial compensation but allow the creator to control its use. Permission is required to use a copyrighted work in print, public performance, a recording, broadcast, translation into other languages or adaptation into a derivative form such as a novel into a screenplay by another party.

Your Instructor

Aziz Makhani is a Certified Business Advisor with the Washington Small Business Center network. He has more than 35 years of experience in various high technology disciplines and companies. Additionally, he has created three successful startups. The Pullman area WSBDC office serves a wide community spanning Whitman, Garfield and Asotin counties in Washington. Aziz advocates peer-to-peer support and brings his experience in product development, worldwide marketing and sales, quality assurance and on and offshore production to stimulate new business growth. 

Digital Print Version

Unlike other forms of intellectual property, copyright protection is extended automatically upon the creation of the work. There is no need to register the work to gain protection. You can, of course, voluntarily register the work at the state or federal level as these additional steps can help in legal proceedings or the assignment or transfer of rights down the road.

Titles, short phrases, slogans, or the listing of product ingredients are not copyrightable because they don’t contain enough elements of authorship to demonstrate any form of original expression. That said, brand names, slogans and phrases used in connection with a product or service that has been protected under trademark law may be protected within the trademark portion of intellectual property law.

Copyright law doesn’t extend to what is known as “useful articles,” either. These would be things like lamps, clothing, sinks or computer monitors as they are considered utilitarian. For example, you can copyright the print or fabric a piece of clothing is made from, but not the item of clothing itself. The design can’t be copyrighted because it is only a unique cut of the copyrightable fabric.

Any work created after Jan. 1, 1978 is protected under copyright law for the creator’s life plus an additional 70 years after their death. If it is a joint work with two or more people, the protection is extended to 70 years after the death of the last surviving creator. For works made for hire, anonymous and pseudonym works, the duration is 95 years from publication or 120 years from its creation, whichever period is shorter.