Protecting Intellectual Property of a Small BusinessEntrepreneurs seldom pay attention to protecting intellectual property of a small business. At times, this can be detrimental to sustaining competitive advantage and helping a company increase its market value.

To be successful, a company must provide a product or service that is unique from the competition and valuable to the consumer. To do that, most businesses create something new, interesting, state-of-the-art, or otherwise proprietary. Most small businesses have some form of intellectual property, even though many don’t realize it. Your company’s name, logo, product, or service are some of the most common. You may have an invention. You may have an exciting business model or just an idea in your mind. Protecting the intellectual property of a small business requires the owner’s attention. It is never a good idea to put off doing this.

Protecting Intellectual Property of a Small Business: Options and Opportunities

Protecting intellectual property is a complicated process. Generally, protecting intellect involves concepts like patents, trademarks, and copyright laws. If you don’t take these steps, you could find your property legally stolen from you and used by another company. At the same time, there is always a risk that your idea or logo could violate another company’s legal rights. For both of these reasons, it is still a good idea to work with a patent attorney throughout this process. However, the following is some guidance to get you started.

Most intellectual property rights are territorial. That means the patent or trademark you obtain in the United States, only protects that area. If you hope to extend your protections further than this, you’ll need to file formal patent applications in each of those countries.

Understanding Patents

In the United States, patents are the most common tool used to protect intellectual property. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the governing body. The organization’s website is very expansive and has a great deal of information to help you to learn more about your options beyond these essential details.

Patents are given those who invent or discover any new or useful process, the machine, manufacture or composition of matter. There are three types used.

Utility patents: These patents are for new and useful processes, a composition of matter, machine, article of the manufacturer or other types of valuable improvements of these items.

Design patents: A new, original, and ornamental design for any item of manufacturer fall under this category.

Plant patents: These patents cover inventions or discoveries, or asexually reproductions of a new variety of plant.

Understanding Trademarks

Another type of intellectual property is the trademark. This term applies not to inventions of tangible goods, but rather for symbols. It can include:

  • Words
  • Names
  • Sounds
  • Colors

This invention helps to distinguish products or services from those that other people manufacture or sell. They help to provide the source of the goods. It is not necessary to register a trademark through the USPTO. However, doing so offers some benefits including protecting the use of that trademark by others.

Understanding Copyrights

The final method for protecting intellectual property comes in the form of copyrights. This form of protection provides the owner with the exclusive right to use the work, modify it, distribute it, perform it, and display it. Copyright laws protect the expression of an idea, but they do not protect the idea itself. This type of protection applies to intellectual property such as:

  • Literary works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural work
  • Musical works including accompanying words
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Pantomimes and choreography
  • Dramatic works including music
  • Computer programs and websites

Just creating a musical program or designing a logo does not automatically give you protection, though. There is a legal process to go through to put in place legal protections on your works. If you fail to do this and someone does it before you, your claim may be limited.

Protecting Intellectual Property of a Small Business

Working with an attorney is always best. However, it is possible for individuals to complete the process of legally protecting their assets. To do this, visit each of the following sites based on the type of product you plan to secure:

Once the product is registered using the processes provided by these organizations, consider expanding this to include other countries where you plan to launch or are operating. Then, tailor any legal contract, document, agreement, and communication to specifically keep that protection in place.

Protect the Creation

For example, if your business works with consultants or independent contractors, ensure you establish a work-for-hire contract that protects explicitly collective work. If this person invents during his/her work for your company, establish copyright ownership within the terms of the deal.  Work-for-hire agreements are at the heart of protecting copyrights when you are paying someone to create something for you.

Protect Ownership

If you are working with someone else on the project, such as a partner, again, partnership agreements must be legally binding contracts that outline who owns the copyright, trademark, and patent for the work should the partnership collapse.

Protect Communication

Nondisclosure agreements are also necessary. When it comes to trade secrets or company plans, you do not want an employee, consultant, or another person with that knowledge to turn to the competition. NDA’s help to protect this if you have the individual sign them in advance of hiring the individual or sharing the experience.

Overall, it is essential to learn how patents and trademarks work. Protecting intellectual property of a small business should never be an afterthought, but a plan you put in place long before you begin operating your business, creating a product, or designing a logo.

What steps have you taken toward protecting intellectual property of a small business?

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