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Protecting intellectual property: Publish or keep it private?

People with a new idea or invention generally want to protect their ownership of it. Companies in Colorado and nationwide will go to great lengths to hire people to develop products or solutions that give them an edge in the marketplace. When and if these ideas are realized, many of them are considered to be quite valuable and can be classified as intellectual property.

Protecting an idea or invention can be extremely crucial for the creator. There are basically two ways in which a party can protect an idea. They can patent it or they can keep it secret. Each solution has strengths and vulnerabilities that a person may want to consider prior to making a decision on which route to take.

Patenting an idea is a way of publicly releasing a product or idea and claiming ownership of it. This gives the creator legal protection of it and how it is used. If another party uses the patented material, he or she must pay the patent holder. However, there are parties that will sidestep their legal obligation to pay the owner and simply steal the patented information for their own use. Depending on the nature of an idea, publishing it could allow others to use it for dangerous purposes.

This is the main argument that is made by some who favor keeping an idea a secret versus patenting it. By not publishing or releasing intellectual property into the marketplace, a company can protect these trade secrets from getting into the wrong hands. However, this solution is also not guaranteed to protect an idea. There have been many instances involving employees or hackers who unlawfully access a heavily guarded trade secret and steal it that way.

There may be no foolproof way of protecting an idea. However, there are ways to make sure it is as secure as possible by patenting it or limiting access to it. If it is improperly used or accessed, companies can explore the legal options they have when it comes to holding that party responsible.

Source: The Economist, "Can you keep a secret?" March 16, 2013

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