Architecture and construction are overflowing with design and engineering. There is intellectual property found in the machines, materials, methods, and more. RPL attorneys have worked with inventions related to building materials, construction equipment, decking, digital and analog signage, green roofs, gutters and downspouts, hand tools, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, lighting systems, plumbing, siding, skatepark design and construction, windows, and more.
Innovation in the field of architecture and construction can result in the creation of intellectual property across any and all of the four IP regimes: patents for securing the exclusive rights to your inventions; trade secrets for protecting the confidential know-how underlying your processes and techniques that can’t be reverse engineered from the customer facing products; copyrights for your written protocols, as well as the creative manner in which you present your innovation to the world through your website, videos, and other marketing materials; and trademarks protecting the branding (e.g., the names, logos, and taglines) that ties each of the previous assets into a valuable business.
Solving problems in the architecture and construction industries can often lead to innovative solutions. Those innovative products and processes may be patentable. When you solve a unique problem you may immediately question whether you have invented something that can be patented. Patent searching can be a valuable tool at this stage; a patentability search or patent landscape search can be used to evaluate whether what you’ve done is protectable; a freedom to operate search can help identify potential infringement issues and help guide further stages of the innovation process to avoid patent infringement.
If what you have invented appears to be patentable, you claim ownership of those innovations by preparing and filing patent applications. When the patents issue, they provide the owner the ability to prevent others from making, using, or selling the patented invention by granting the exclusive rights to the invention to the patent owner. This can be especially important in technologies for which the path to market is long and expensive. The innovator has a tough path to market and, without patent protection securing the rights when the innovation finally starts to pay off, there may not be adequate incentive to bring the innovation to market at all. If a copycat can quickly ride your coattails after you prove there is a valuable market, you are putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage without patent protection.
When used correctly, the patents provide exclusive rights in the innovation that help to provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. As discussed more below, that competitive advantage can be used to help build the value in the trademarks that protect the business.
For inventions that are based on, or that incorporate subject matter that is difficult to reverse engineer, trade secret protection is an alternative, and sometimes preferred, mechanism for IP protection. Like patents above, the protection offered by trade secret protection can provide exclusive rights in the innovation that help to provide a competitive advantage and build the value in the trademarks.
There is no registration process for trade secrets, you simply need to maintain the confidentiality of the secret. Using non-disclosure agreements and other confidentiality measures can be helpful in demonstrating the efforts you’ve taken to maintain the confidentiality of a trade secret, but the real key is that trade secret protection is only effective for inventions that competitors won’t be able to figure out based on the public facing aspects of your product and business. And that’s your competitive advantage; if they can’t figure it out, they can’t copy it.
In the fields of architecture and construction, it is less common for trade secrets to be as important as the patents. It is often the case that the key components of architecture and construction-related inventions are openly accessible can be reverse engineered. These types of inventions are not good candidates for trade secret protection. That said, to the extent your innovation involves a process or product that is difficult to reverse engineer, it is important to explore opportunities to secure your trade secrets.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship fixed in tangible media. In architecture and construction-related inventions, copyrights are most often used to protect the licensable protocols you have developed for implementing your technology and processes. Copyrights are also important in protecting your original works of authorship, including your videos, websites, marketing copy, etc.
Although the registration process is not nearly as complex as either the patent or trademark registration processes, it can be helpful to work with an experienced IP attorney to protect your copyrightable materials.
Branding is important anytime a business is selling differentiated goods and services. In architecture and construction-related businesses, the company’s name is often its most important IP asset, as the name is how the brand will be recognized and the asset that will hold the value of the trust and admiration earned from the customers and the public. It can also be true that the product name is as important or more important than the company name. Regardless of which is primarily important, trademarks are implicated in each name, logo, and tagline you bring to market. With each of those marks, it is important to avoid infringing others’ trademark rights through trademark searches and opinions and developing rights in distinctive marks yourself by registering trademarks.
In the long run, the business’s trademarks are often their most valuable IP assets. However, trademarks take time and effort to develop recognition and goodwill in the marketplace. In order to have the space in the marketplace to build that goodwill, the patents and trade secrets need to hold competitors from copying your unique offerings and enable you to build your brand. This is one of many reasons it is important to strategically build a coordinated and thoughtful trademark strategy from the outset of the business or product launch.
RPL’s attorneys have a strong background in the engineering and science that goes into protecting architecture and construction-related. Two of our patent attorneys, including RPL’s managing attorney, Patrick Richards, were trained as civil engineers and have real world engineering experience in the fields of architecture and construction. We look forward to helping you protect your inventions in the architecture and construction-related spaces.