Creative ideas make each Colorado pizza shop, shoemaker or computer software company different from other businesses like them. Ideas aren’t tangible, but they are just as important, if not more vital, to business success as physically perceptible property.

A lack of physical properties makes intellectual property vulnerable to theft. A copyright grants authors, filmmakers, musicians and songwriters, choreographers and other artists the exclusive rights to perform, copy, change and sell original works. Copyright laws safeguard the expression of ideas rather than the ideas themselves.

Patent laws give inventors exclusive but limited rights to manufacture, use or sell inventions like machines, chemical compounds or compositions and technical and manufacturing processes. The product’s design is protected from use by others, without permission, for 20 years.

Trademarks are distinctive brand identifiers like the name of the social media website Facebook, the Nike swoosh symbol and McDonald’s advertising slogan “I’m lovin’ it.” A trademark followed by ® indicates the word, symbol or phrase has been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The unregistered trademark symbol is (TM).

Trademarks are valid as long as a business uses the identifier; registered trademarks are renewable every 10 years. Some trademarks fade over time — McDonald’s is likely to change its advertising slogan at some point, as the company has several times over the years, no longer choosing to identify with the “I’m lovin’ it” tag line. Conversely, chances are slim Facebook would alter a well-established company name.

Trade secrets are not government registered. If a pizza sauce recipe contains a secret ingredient, it is in the owner’s best interest to limit parties privy to the confidential information. Employees can be asked to sign non-disclosure agreements to establish a basis for a breach of contract case in the event the secret is leaked.

Civil lawsuits may be filed in intellectual property disputes. However, court battles can be avoided through settlement negotiations.

Source: Entrepreneur, “Intellectual Property” accessed Feb. 18, 2015