Outward-Facing and Inward-Facing Intellectual Property and Protection
Intellectual property has several stages or levels that it may go through.
At the core of all intellectual property is a trade secret. A trade secret is completely owned and completely controlled by the creator. If creators keeps ideas to themselves, they have complete and total ownership and control of their creations.
However, this is not practical in many situations.
For example, a trade name has no value as a secret. You must use it to identify your product and you must tell someone about it. You will invest lots of time, money, and effort to build that brand and establish its respect in the market.
In many cases, a product will have both outward facing intellectual property and trade secrets. When you build a tangible product, like a kitchen spatula, a consumer (or competitor) can purchase the spatula and dissect it to know the mechanical elements of it. These are outward facing or customer-detectable elements.
The trade secrets around the spatula can be your methods or processes you used to manufacture the idem. This can include the tooling or molds used to form the product, racks used to store and manage the product, robots, assembly equipment, or anything else used inside the factory.
For customer-facing trade secrets, the intellectual property can be protected by copyrights and patents. These types of protections will allow you to keep people from copying the product or specific aspects of the product.
For internally-facing trade secrets, IP is often protect by Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and by just not telling people.
IP around a product or service – other than the branding – can lose its value when it is put into the wild. An unprotected design for a spatula may be copied for free. You still might have a competitive advantage, but it will be limited to your cost structure, distribution, brand name, and ability to execute – but you will not have an advantage on the design because your competitor can make the exact same product.