If you’re starting a business, you may be keenly aware of your intellectual property opportunities and challenges. Or, if you’re not starting a tech company, your IP may just be a passing thought. But every entrepreneur should know these five basic things about intellectual property when they launch their business.

1. Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are all different. Broadly speaking, you patent your invention, copyright your written work, and trademark your brand. Patents can be the most time consuming and expensive of the IP protection trio, but are often crucial to startups. If you’re working with unique technology, it’s a must. Copyrights are the “easiest” of the three. Any original written work you create is automatically given copyright protection, but you can also register it with the USPTO for additional protection. Trademarks fall in between patents and copyrights in terms of the effort needed to secure protection. Common law trademark rights exist for your brand and don’t require USPTO registration. However, registering your trademark with the USPTO gives you far greater protection: you can sue in federal court for damages if your mark is infringed, other companies will be barred from registering similar trademarks with the USPTO, and you can use the (R) symbol.

2. You need to affirmatively protect your IP in business transactions. If you’re engaged in joint ventures or business transactions with other companies, you should spell out IP ownership and licensing restrictions in your contracts. Specifically, make it clear that you retain all rights to your IP. You want to make sure there’s no confusion — don’t license or sell your IP when you don’t mean to.

3. IP adds value. Intellectual property is often among a company’s most highly valued assets. A tech company without patents would have a hard time keeping competitors at bay. By that same token, McDonald’s could likely sell the right to use its golden arches for quite a bit of money. Make sure to monetize your ideas early, particularly if you’re looking to ensure proper valuation of your company.

4. IP rights expire. Unfortunately, you can’t just set it and forget it. You need to take an active role in managing and renewing your IP assets. For instance, trademark owners must file a form (known as a Section 8) five years after their trademark has registered. Then, every ten years after registration, another declaration and renewal must be filed. Failure to keep up with this will result in a cancellation of your trademark. We suggest calendaring events for all of your IP — patents, trademarks and copyrights.

5. Intellectual property rights are not absolute. “Fair use” is a defense to both trademark infringement and copyright infringement (although trademark fair use differs from copyright fair use). Other defenses and exceptions exist as well. In short, you shouldn’t assume that your rights are absolute. For example, competitors may compare their product to your trademarked product, and portions of your copyrighted work may be used for education or criticism.

It’s important for entrepreneurs to stay on top of developments in intellectual property law. Your business must evolve with the law to ensure that you are using your IP effectively and profitably. We hope these five pointers are a good start!