Intellectual property protection in Texas: Know the basics

People in Texas who work in the creative or business world should have an understanding of intellectual property protection.

In 2015, there were 589,410 applications for a utility patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. According to the organization, there were another 39,097 applications for a design patent and 1,140 applications for a plant patent. What is impressive is that these numbers only account for patents, and not any of the other methods of protecting intellectual property in Texas.

Entrepreneurs, designers, inventors and business owners, among others, should have a basic understanding of how to ensure that items such as digital property, trade secrets and creative works are not stolen or abused.

What is intellectual property?

Loosely defined, intellectual property is any invention or work that stems from creativity. There are a number of types of intellectual property, such as the following:

  • Artistic or literary work
  • Symbols
  • Designs
  • New varieties of plants
  • A slogan

Trade secrets are also considered intellectual property. These are programs, devices or formulas that are used in business and essentially give a company an edge over competition. Therefore, the theft of a trade secret could be highly detrimental to its owner.

How do I protect my intellectual property?

The type of intellectual property determines which method of protection to use. A copyright is used to protect works that are authored, such as books, songs, plays and blogs that are original.

A trademark is used for certain items - like a symbol, word, name or even sound - that sets a good or service apart from competitors. Companies often trademark their name or logo. Especially complex logos could also qualify for copyright protection.

There are three types of patents: a utility patent, which is used for an invention; a design patent for the design of something that is manufactured; and a plant patent, which applies specifically to a new variety of a plant.

People seeking protection should obtain the appropriate form and register it with the USPTO. This ensures legal enforceability in the event that someone infringes on the owner's rights. Further, they should be aware that these methods have an expiration date. A utility patent lasts 20 years and a design patent is good for 14 years. A copyright has a longer term, stretching to up to 95 years. Trademarks and trade secret protection are typically indefinite as long as the item is in use.

How are trade secrets protected?

While it is possible to patent a trade secret, the process would make the secret public information, thus defeating the purpose. Essentially, companies may use other tools, such as non-disclosure agreements and security measures, to protect trade secrets.

The enforcement of trade secret protection falls on state laws. In 2013, Texas established the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which brought the state's existing laws up to speed with today's fast-paced intellectual property world. It defines trade secrets and outlines how people may seek relief when they are stolen or otherwise misused.

People who have concerns about this topic should speak with an intellectual property attorney.