Designs, processes, symbols and works that your company owns are examples of intellectual property. It may include works that your company created or that you hired someone else to make for your company. Intellectual property can be valuable because it generates revenue or identifies your company to consumers.
There are different types of protections for intellectual property. The type of asset you own determines the protections you need for it.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, copyright protects any works that exist in a tangible format that you create or own. Examples include photographs, novels, motion pictures, musical compositions and software code. The law considers digital formats to be tangible.
By law, copyrights are only enforceable for a certain amount of time. Once the copyright expires, the work passes into the public domain. However, you probably do not need to worry about your copyrights expiring. If you are the creator of the work, it typically does not happen until decades following your death under the current law.
A trademark is something intangible that sets your company and the goods and services you provide apart from those of your competitors. Examples of trademarks include a logo, which is a unique design that you use to identify your business, and a slogan, which is a special phrase that sets your business apart from the competition. Unlike copyrights, trademarks do not expire as long as they are still in use.
You have the right to give or withhold permission for the use of your intellectual property to anyone. If you agree to let someone else use your intellectual property and he or she violates the terms of your agreement, it could result in a dispute over the terms of the contract that you made with the other party.