Wow. Intellectual Property. It’s quite a mouthful. Sure, it’s something you hear international playboy/patent attorneys throw around all of the time, but what does it actually mean? Intellectual property refers to laws that allow you claim ownership over certain intangible creations, like inventions, books, movies and trademarks. Next time you are in Monte Carlo playing Baccarat at the big boy table, try slipping it into the conversation. The knowing winks from around the table will indicate you have used it correctly.
IP and Blogs
Okay. You know what it means, but how does intellectual property relate to blogs. Intellectual property is that part of the blog you own. Most bloggers have a copyright in their content and a trademark on their name and do not even know it. Some bloggers even have valuable intellectual property in their domain name, patentable process and/or the trade secrets embodied in email lists and what goes on behind the scenes. Unfortunately, failure to properly protect this intellectual property can cause it to move into the public domain and be lost forever.
While patents are expensive and trade secrets merely involve keeping the information confidential, nearly every blog has the potential for domain name, copyright and trademark protection. Domain names are given on a first come first serve basis. If you have a http://blawgit.blogspot.com blog address through blogger.com or similar service, you may wish to grab the http://www.bretttrout.com domain name sooner, rather than later. For a few dollars, you can grab your domain name, which a cybersquatter may hold hostage for thousands of dollars a year from now.
If your blog or podcast has a unique name, you may want to obtain a federal trademark registration on it. As soon as you use the trademark in commerce (use it to identify your posts) you have “common law” rights in the trademark. While common law rights are important, a federal trademark registration provides for triple damages and recovery of your attorney fees if someone willfully infringes your trademark. The great thing about these increased penalties is that defendants run scared, rather than fight; something that turns out to be very valuable when you are paying your intellectual property attorney $500/hr to defend your rights. You can check out the Trademark Office for free online at www.uspto.gov to see if anyone has beaten you to your registration. While you can register your own federal trademark for a little over $300, paying $1200 for a trademark attorney to do it right will pay large dividends if you ever have to sue someone for infringement.
Like trademark protection, you have copyright protection as soon as you post a blog. Strangely, the same protection does not automatically apply to podcasts. You have to make sure you record a copy of the podcast to have copyright automatically attach. In either case, you need to register the copyright if you ever want to sue anyone for infringing your copyright. Since the Copyright Office does not compare your registration against previous registrations like the Patent and Trademark Office, Copyright registration is much cheaper. Registering your copyright yourself runs about $45, while enlisting the help of a qualified Copyright attorney runs about $200.
Knowledge is the Key
Whether your blog or podcast is associated with copyrightable material, valuable trademarks, trade secrets, domain names or even patentable subject matter you should at least know what you own. It is important to meet with an intellectual property attorney experienced in working with bloggers to tell you what you have and how to protect it. Often, an initial meeting with an intellectual property attorney is free and you do not incur any charges until you actually pursue formal protection. Even if you decide not to go any further, it is a good idea at least to find out what exactly what you own and your options for protecting your intellectual property.