The subject of intellectual property is confusing to many business owners. It is also something that is critically important for all entrepreneurs to understand. You must both register and fiercely protect your intellectual property rights to avoid serious issues. Do note that this article does not constitute legal advice. Your company should consult an intellectual property lawyer with questions regarding your specific situation or product.

Know The Differences Between Different Protections

There are three different legal types of intellectual property. These are copyright, trademarks, and patents. Copyright is for protecting artistic and literary works. Patents are government protection for your inventions so others cannot make, sell or use them. According to Dozmia, “Trademarks protect a distinctive word, phrase, symbol, or design used to distinctively identify a product or service. So, trademarks identify your brand, and you can protect your logo or name by acquiring the associated trademark rights.” Knowing the differences in the protection offered is vital for being able to defend your intellectual property in the future.

Register Your IP

One of the best ways to protect your intellectual property is to officially register it with the relevant government office. Depending on the type of IP and the ideal way to register your different IPs, the registration process is different. According to ARL, copyrights are registered with the United States Library of Congress. Copyright is also, by US law, put in place the moment your work is created in a tangible form.

Registering the copyright, however, affords it extra protection, such as the ability to sue for it in court, according to George Mason University. Trademarks must be applied for and not already be in use by another company. Patent registration is perhaps the most important. If you fail to register your patent, and another company patents it first, you will likely be forced to pay fees to the patent holder or even be forced to stop selling the product.

React To Violations

Small businesses may have a harder time defending their IP than more massive conglomerates because of the simple lack of manpower. However, you must utilize your resources to send cease-and-desist letters and file other notices of violation when violations are found. You will never catch all the pirates. However, you can send a strong signal that you take defending your intellectual property seriously. The different IP categories also have different stipulations and requirements for protecting them. For example, it is a myth that copyright must be defended or you will lose it. That is, however, the case with trademarks. So understand your duties when it comes to legally guarding your IP. It is also important to not go overboard with defending copyright in particular. Defending it too zealously can put off the fans who are passionate about your work.

Another potential threat to IP is patent-trolls: companies or individuals that exist only to extract settlements from ostensible violations. In many cases, patent tolls don’t actually have a legitimate claim to the property they are defending. They are relying on companies with monetary resources settling claims, since doing so is typically cheaper than going to court. Drew Curtis has a deliciously ironic strategy for fighting these bottom-feeders, and you should definitely check it out.

Invest In Good NDAs

Outside violations are not the only thing you need to worry about. You must also ensure your employees do not disclose company and trade secrets inappropriately. Non-disclosure agreements, also known as NDAs, legally prevent employees from doing this. The key to a well-written NDA is in the specifics. It must be clearly stated in writing, as well as known among your employees, what aspects of your business are not for disclosure. This way your company has legal recourse if a current or former employee does disclose secret information.

It is imperative for entrepreneurs to adequately protect their intellectual property. It is the lifeblood of your business, and a failure to defend it or register it correctly in the first place can result in severe losses. If relevant, look into registering IP in other countries, especially patents, because US protection does not extend to other countries. Register your IP correctly and defend it when necessary, and you will be in good shape.

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About Jennifer Torres Contributor

Jennifer Torres has a passion for helping women in business. When she's not helping grow amazing businesses, she's homeschooling and spending time with her kids.

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