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Chances are, whether you work for a business, own a business, or are in the actual business of creating (artists, musicians, writers, app developers, software engineers – the list goes on and on!), you interact with various aspects of intellectual property on a daily basis. The premise that innovation, inventions and ideas (yes, even words and art) are uniquely created by individuals and should be fairly protected under law dates back thousands of years. Even then, laws were created to encourage people’s creativity and make it possible for inventors to reap the benefits of their original ideas.

When you think more deeply about innovation, where does it come from? Often times what fuels innovation is, in fact, innovation itself – those similarly nuanced ideas that came before and paved the way. Perhaps Isaac Newton himself said it best when he so eloquently stated, “If I have seen further, it is through standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton was recognizing the importance of incrementality to the innovation process – the idea that the incremental improvements made to an existing invention or idea by allowing others to improve on it – is where the most prolific innovations of our time come from. However, this also introduces the complexity and ambiguity that riddles intellectual property – and why so many cases regarding intellectual property ownership – from copyright infringement, to plagiarism, to patent violations– end up in the court of law.

By protecting intellectual property, innovation can foster and flourish. Dating all the way back to the medieval times of the 1600s in Europe, intellectual property statutes encouraged innovation (for the sake of survival!) and mitigated monopolies (for the sake of sustainable growth of society). What motivation would individuals have to focus on innovation if they could not reap the benefits of their hard work and perseverance to succeed? Even back then, it was intrinsically understood that businesses would suffer, culture would suffer, and the innovation cycle would cease – and society’s demise would soon follow.

Not as worried about the survival of society in today’s modern world? Let’s think about the four key components of intellectual property – copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets. If these words aren’t part of your daily vernacular (or job description) doesn’t preclude you from the need to protect your IP. Think about your company name, your logo – even your website domain is considered intellectual property – and could be critical to assessing the overall value of your business or art to potential buyers, investors and customers.

Still not convinced you should care, or that it is relevant to you? One of the most critical risks related to intellectual property is not understanding it – and you don’t need to hire a team of IP legal experts to do so. Taking the time to understand how intellectual property works and what it means to your business or your ideas can avoid two huge pitfalls – unknowingly giving away your own intellectual property, and/or inadvertently stealing someone else’s – either of these has the ability to ruin individuals, businesses AND reputations. Understanding what IP means in your daily world can help you avoid getting caught up in an already ambiguous area of the law.

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