The legal services field is fertile grounds for innovation and RPL attorneys have worked with lawyers, law firms, and legal innovators on numerous inventions and branding efforts.
Innovation in the legal services field 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.
Technological solutions in the legal field often involve innovative software products that may be patentable. Patent searching can be a valuable tool at an initial stage 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 legal services field, it is less common for trade secrets to be as important as the patents, except with respect to internal processes, which can be protected by confidentiality agreements.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship fixed in tangible media. In the legal field you will most commonly find copyrights in 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 the legal field, the company’s name is often its most important IP asset, as the name is how the brand will be recognized and is the asset that holds the value of the trust and admiration earned from the customers and the public. 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.
RPL’s attorneys understand legal services innovation and branding and we look forward to helping you secure your IP in the legal services field.