On a daily basis, IDEA members enlist talented employees and third-party contractors to contribute their experience and expertise to projects that enhance the district energy industry. These employees and contractors may be charged with innovating technology and implementing or improving valuable business practices. Often, by performing these tasks, these employees and contractors create or improve valuable intellectual property. This intellectual property - whether manifesting in a patent, copyright, trademark or trade secret - likely translates into economic value that contributes to an IDEA member's company or other business entity (Organization). Organizations are well-served to closely monitor the creation of intellectual property by employees and contractors within the Organization and take affirmative steps to best maintain ownership rights to efficiently preserve the economic value of their intellectual property.
Forms of Intellectual Property
Intellectual property that an employee or contractor may create for an Organization could manifest in different forms. For example, an employee or contractor may create intellectual property by developing copyrightable content, conceiving patentable inventions, expanding valuable trade secret information or creating source-identifying trademarks.
A patent offers protection for a new and useful "invention," such as processes or methods, machines, articles of manufacture, compositions of matter, or new or useful improvements of the same. To be eligible for a patent, the invention must fit into the above patentable subject matter, and must also be useful, novel and non-obvious in relation to existing inventions. A patent, which can only be issued in the United States by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, grants the inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the invention. Patent-protected inventions are valuable corporate assets because they protect an Organization's core technology.
A copyright offers protection for various types of "works," including literary works, software programs, pictorial and graphic works, audio visual works, architectural works and works of compilation. In the United States, a copyright protects an "original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression." A copyright holder enjoys the exclusive right to control (among other rights) the copying, reproduction, distribution and publication of the work and the creation of derivative works. It's important to remember that a copyright protects only the exact expression in the work - not the general idea or concept of the work. Copyright-protected works are also valuable corporate assets because they may be used to protect an Organization's core technology, such as software applications, as well as an Organization's creative works, for instance, advertising and promotional materials.
A trademark is a word, name, symbol, sound or phrase used on goods or in association with services to indicate the source or origin of those goods or services. A registered trademark prevents others from using the same or confusingly similar marks for similar goods or services, allowing an Organization to control the quality and reputation associated with its products and services in the marketplace. Organizations are well-served to select distinctive trademarks to better identify their goods or services and also to file applications for federal registration of these marks.
Trade secrets are confidential information, techniques, practices or know-how that are proprietary to an Organization or of commercial value to it, because they are generally not known or available to the public. An Organization must take reasonable steps to maintain and protect the confidential nature of its trade secrets. Otherwise, they may fall into the public domain and lose their competitive value.