Let’s start with what is “IP”? IP is short for Intellectual Property, which refers to property rights arising from works of the mind. Such works are not inherently tangible, unlike real estate and personal property like a watch or a car. Intellectual property includes inventions and discoveries; creative works like novels, sculptures, musical scores, and even architectural blueprints; and names and logos that distinguish products produced by one company from another. Intellectual property falls primarily into three broad categories: patents, copyrights, and trademarks. But it also extends to related areas such as trade secrets and even unfair competition.
So, what does an IP attorney do? We help businesses, inventors, authors, and others protect their inventions and discoveries, trade names and product designs, and creative works. We secure IP rights by obtaining patents, trademarks, and copyrights. After obtaining IP rights, we help our clients license those rights, or if necessary, enforce them against potential infringers.
Now, do you need an IP attorney? In my opinion the answer is usually yes. The answer is not because of self-interest but because of experience. Unknown “unknowns” get companies and new ventures (and individuals) into trouble. And we have seen our share after the fact. IP is one of the most complicated areas of law and is muddled with deadlines that if missed can result in a loss of rights. There are few things worse to an inventor than seeing a competitor copy his invention and having no recourse because he did not secure IP rights. And for a new start up trying to attract capital, IP may be its only asset. And without IP, the startup may be unattractive to an investor and eventually lead to the venture’s dissolution, leaving its founders empty handed. One way to approach the question is by performing a simple cost-benefit analysis by asking whether the expense of working with an IP attorney is worth the benefit of protecting your or the company’s IP rights. Another way of approaching the question is by asking another question: Can you or the company afford not to consult an IP attorney?