After working with hundreds of businesses for more than 20 years, I have developed a system to help entrepreneurs and businesses identify and protect their intellectual property assets.
If you are confused about intellectual property, or you think that your business doesn’t have any intellectual property, you’re not alone. Many of my current clients were initially embarrassed because they didn’t know what questions to ask about this topic.
Over time, I have developed a five-step system to help businesses learn about intellectual property and safeguard their valuable assets. After following this system, they better understand intellectual property and how to leverage it to strengthen their business. The five-step system is described below.
1. Understand and Identify Intellectual Property
Intellectual property is commonly defined as a “creation of the mind.” Your intellectual property assets include ideas, inventions, creative works, and innovative thoughts. Here are some examples of intellectual property your business may create:
- marketing materials
- website content
- PowerPoint slides
- audio recordings
- video recordings
You may have developed a company logo, product name, or other brand identifier associated with your business as well.
Once you understand the basic definition of intellectual property, and the examples mentioned above, start identifying those intellectual property assets in your business. Evaluate your business documents, product names, advertising materials, website content, inventions, and other creative works to generate an intellectual property inventory. Update the inventory as you create new intellectual property assets.
Protect the items in your inventory based on the types of intellectual property protection discussed below.
2. Protect Your Creative Works
Creative works are frequently protected with copyrights. These creative works include literary, musical, and artistic works. In many businesses, copyrights are useful to protect books (including e-books), blog posts, graphic designs, PowerPoint slides, audio recordings, and video recordings. Your copyright protection occurs automatically as soon as you (or your team) finish the creative work.
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. As I mentioned in a recent article, this copyright notice also affords 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 whom to contact for more information about the content of the creative work.
3. Safeguard Your Company Identifiers
Your company and brand identifiers are important intellectual property assets. For example, your company name, company logo, and product names are valuable assets if they attract customers and distinguish your products in the marketplace.
These brand identifiers are commonly protected with trademarks. Well-known trademarks include company names (such as “Nike” and “Ford”) and logos (such as the Nike swoosh and the golden arches of McDonald’s). Consider filing a trademark application for important trademarks, such as the trademarks related to significant products or services in your business. For example, if you are investing significant time and money to develop and launch a new product, consider a trademark application to protect the new product name (and logo), which helps protect your investment in that new product.
4. Secure Your Inventions and Trade Secrets
Inventions and novel designs are often protected with patents. Inventions may include physical items (such as computers, exercise equipment, and kitchen tools) or processes (such as computer algorithms that control self-driving cars or procedures for manufacturing products).
To protect an invention, you must first prepare a patent application, which includes a detailed written description with accompanying drawings of the invention. If you develop a new invention, consider consulting with a patent attorney to determine whether the invention is patentable and to evaluate the potential value of the invention to your business.
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 these lists by limiting the number of people with access to this data and securing the data to prevent unauthorized copying or distribution of these trade secrets.
5. Avoid Legal Headaches
When you hire someone to work for your business, such as an employee, contractor, or freelancer, it’s important to be sure your business owns the creative ideas created by those team members. Since you (or your company) are paying for the work, you should own all intellectual property rights related to the work produced.
This is achieved with a written agreement clearly stating that you own all intellectual property. Typically, the hiring company includes an intellectual property ownership clause in an employment agreement, contractor agreement, or freelancer agreement. Verify that all of your team members have an obligation to assign their intellectual property rights to your organization. Without the proper written agreements, you may encounter legal headaches if a team member (or disgruntled former team member) claims ownership of your intellectual property.
Your intellectual property assets are critical to your business. Take appropriate steps to protect these assets just as you would protect any other valuable asset.
Start applying this five-step system today to start safeguarding your vital intellectual property assets.
Want more help protecting your intellectual property? Download my Free Intellectual Property Checklist at http://MyIPchecklist.com