Basic Principles of Intellectual Property


Are others using your ideas and affecting your profits? Are you looking for ways to maximize the value of your business? Whether you’re an artist, designer, manufacturer or person involved in building or managing a brand of products or services in the music industry, intellectual property (IP) rights are important. Knowing the basic principles of how IP rights are created and how they can be used, in the view of our firm, MKG, can assist your growth and success. Regardless of the size of your business, you have an IP portfolio, and it is valuable. (Note that this article is not legal advice. Please consult a legal professional for more information.)

Simply stated, intellectual property is the product of your creativity. In tangible form, IP is an expression of an idea, conceived by you individually or with others. Some examples of IP include an invention, such as a new product design or manufacturing process, musical composition or lyrics, graphic or written content placed on your website, an advertising or promotional concept, or a unique brand name or logo. Few people appreciate the amount of work and dedication that goes into developing and commercializing your product or service. This is especially true with today’s technology. Your IP can be copied and offered in competition against you virtually overnight. You must be proactive to maintain your exclusivity in this increasingly global and competitive marketplace.

Legal protection available for IP varies globally and falls within one or more of the following areas of law: patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. For now, let’s understand that under some areas of law a protectable right is formed the moment you create an original work. In other areas, protection is available only after a complete examination and evaluation by a governmental authority such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or U.S. Copyright Office.

Many of us in the music industry have seen contractual agreements authorizing or prohibiting the use of certain IP. Examples of some of these agreements include non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements (NDAs), assignment agreements, licensing and distribution agreements, and other legal documents. Businesses use these agreements as tools to establish ground rules for their business relationships. While handshake agreements or agreements in principle are fine for certain activities, when valuable time and treasure is at stake, every legal and business counselor will advise you to have a written agreement in place to minimize the risk of a future conflict.

We’re preparing future articles that will explore examples of some of the more common agreements involving IP and discuss best practices to avoid unwanted consequences that can limit your IP rights or allow a right to fall into the public domain, allowing unrestricted use by others.

Rest assured, there are legal advisors available to help you, no matter the size of your business. We’ll discuss factors we believe you should consider when selecting the right legal partner to assist you in protecting your IP and ensure you have the appropriate documents in place to guide your business. Your legal team should supplement your business strategy and address your needs with appropriate documentation. Neither the documentation nor the relationship with your legal representative needs to be complicated, overly expensive, or burdensome.

We look forward to sharing more insight about how you can get started or continue with an effective strategy for protecting your IP. Your IP portfolio is valuable and when protected, becomes an asset of your business. We will share our recommendations on steps to do just that and to continue enjoying the benefits of your hard work for years to come!

Michael Kinney is a managing partner at MKG, a legal firm that specializes in intellectual property.