Media Mayhem and ADversity
Risk Management for Advertising, Design, and Media Professionals

There's No Such Thing as Intellectual Property Insurance — But That Doesn't Mean Advertising Agencies Shouldn't Protect IP

"Intellectual property," or IP, encompasses copyrights, trademarks, ideas, skills, and more. Unfortunately, there's no IP insurance that protects your intellectual property from theft. That means it's especially important that you take steps to protect it.

You may be saying, "Hold on a minute. Doesn't Errors and Omissions Insurance protect against copyright infringement lawsuits?" It may. But those are lawsuits that third parties file against you for infringing on their IP. There's no coverage that protects you if someone infringes on your intellectual property — it's up to you to protect it. Below, we'll explain how ad agencies can take steps to protect their IP.

7 Strategies to Protect Your Intellectual Property, Copyrights, and Trademarks

To protect your IP, you'll need to take a proactive approach that involves learning the basics of IP law, adopting best practices, and training your staff. Here are seven strategies to get you started:

  1. Understand intellectual property law. The four different types of IP — trademark, copyright, trade secrets, and patents — each have different laws and means of protection. You can register trademarks and patents with the USPTO and register copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office . CSO Online has a helpful guide to IP protection for small businesses.
  2. Know what tools are available to protect your IP rights. While there is no intellectual property coverage, IP theft is a crime and you can report it to the National IPR Coordination Center . If another business is infringing on your trademark, copyright, or other IP, you may need to consult your lawyer and file a lawsuit or send them a cease and desist letter.
  3. Use contracts with your freelancers and independent contractors. When you hire a freelancer or contractor, you could find yourself in trouble if the employment agreement doesn't specify that you own the rights to the creative work he or she produces. For example, say you hire a designer to produce a logo for one of your clients. The employment contract should state that the designer assigns ownership of the logo and related IP to you. If it doesn't, the designer could theoretically reuse these designs.
  4. Clarify that you own creative content your employees produce. Though work-for-hire laws usually say that you own the rights to the IP employees create for you, it's best to avoid any miscommunications by spelling this out in your employment agreements. (See the section on Work-for-hire agreements in our Media IP eBook).
  5. Educate your employees. Sometimes a misunderstanding can lead to IP infringement. Training your employees about the legality of using copyrighted images or designs can prevent a costly IP lawsuit. If you're worried about employees taking trade secrets and IP when they leave, make sure they understand that this is illegal. Include IP training as part of your normal orientations and outline your expectations in an employee handbook.
  6. Protect your data. To protect IP, you'll need good IT. Secure networks, devices, and employee policies can prevent criminals, competitors, and other third parties from accessing and taking your IP digitally.
  7. Know how to use your IP. IP laws may only protect your business's IP if you use it properly. For instance, businesses may lose the right to own their trademarks if they use them incorrectly. See the INTA's Guide to Proper Trademark Use [PDF] .

Of course, there's no way we can summarize all the relevant IP laws and protections you should know in this article. However, this guide should is a good starting point.

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