Intellectual Property Protection for Entrepreneurs

Yes, your business has intellectual property assets!  If you are an entrepreneur, small business owner, author, speaker, or thought leader, you generate intellectual property from your day-to-day business activities.  It’s not just technology companies that need to protect their intellectual property – you do too.

Intellectual property is commonly defined as a “creation of the mind.”  Your intellectual property assets include ideas, inventions, creative works, and innovative thoughts.  For example, you may have created articles, drawings, website content, audio recordings and video recordings that represent your intellectual property.  And, you may have developed a company logo, product name, or other brand identifier that are intellectual property assets of your business.  Your intellectual property also includes inventions and trade secrets associated with your business.

The following activities will start you on a path to protecting your most important intellectual property.

Discover Your Intellectual Property Assets

Now that you have a basic definition of intellectual property, look for those assets that you have already created.  Evaluate your business frameworks, documentation, product names, inventions and other business creations to generate a list of your intellectual property.  Identify original creative works that were generated from your own ideas or the ideas of your team members.

Create a list of your current intellectual property and keep expanding that list as you develop new creative works.  Evaluate each item on the list to determine what type of protection, discussed below, is appropriate for that item.

Copyright Protection

Copyrights protect creative works, such as a literary, musical, or artistic works.  Copyrights protect your books, articles, drawings, PowerPoint slides, website content, audio recordings and video recordings.

Your copyright protection occurs automatically as soon as the creative work is completed.  Although your copyright protection is automatic, I recommend including a copyright notice on all of your creative works to clearly identify you (or your company) as the copyright owner, which provides an opportunity to strengthen your brand and business.

For example, if someone shares one of your creative works with another person, your copyright notice lets the recipient know who to contact for more information about the content of the creative work.  Here are two sample copyright notices:

© 2018 Steven Sponseller   or   © 2018 Innovation Strategies, Inc.

Trademark Protection

Trademarks are used to protect logos, names, slogans and other business identifiers.  For example, a company logo on a product identifies the manufacturer of that product, which may be valuable to a consumer who likes that manufacturer.  A product name, such as the Scrub Daddy® cleaning sponge, as well as a slogan “America’s Favorite Sponge!®”, can be protected with a trademark to prevent competitors from using similar names that could be confusing to consumers.

Look for names, logos and other identifiers used in your business that are becoming popular and consider filing a trademark application for those items that represent your business or brand.

Patent Protection

Patents protect inventions and novel designs.  Inventions may include physical items, such as computers, cell phones, exercise equipment, board games, kitchen tools and automotive products.  Inventions can also include computing systems (and computing software) that implement your business framework or provide novel features to your customers.

If you develop a new invention, consider consulting with a patent attorney to determine whether the invention is patentable and evaluate the potential value of the invention to your business.

Trade Secret Protection

Trade secrets are business secrets that provide a competitive advantage for your business.  Example trade secrets are the formula for Coca-Cola® soda and Google’s search algorithm.  These trade secrets are valuable to the companies that maintain the secrets and critical to the operation of the businesses.

You may not realize that your business probably has valuable trade secrets in your customer lists, prospective customer lists and email lists.  These lists are highly valuable to your business and need to be protected in the same manner that you protect other high-value business assets.

Protect your customer lists, prospective customer lists, and email lists by limiting the number of people with access to this data and ensuring that the data is stored securely to prevent unauthorized copying or distribution of these trade secrets.

If you have been in business for any period of time, you DO have intellectual property assets.  You should protect these assets as you would any other important business property.  Your intellectual property can provide a competitive advantage by distinguishing your company in the marketplace.  Protecting that intellectual property can prevent others from stealing those important assets.

For more information about protecting your intellectual property, download my Free Intellectual Property Checklist at http://MyIPchecklist.com.

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