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Are you Accidentally Infringing the Intellectual Property Rights of Others?

You’ve probably heard stories about people receiving nasty letters from attorneys representing copyright owners – where the letters are asserting copyright infringement.  Maybe you received one of these letters yourself!

If you’re worried about the images (and other content) you use in your business and don’t want to receive one of those nasty letters, this article will show you how to safely use images and other content on your website and throughout your business.

If you use a copyrighted image without permission, that’s copyright infringement even if it’s “accidental” (you didn’t know the image was protected by a copyright).

Many of the letters I’ve seen for infringing the copyrights associated with photos “invite” the recipient of the letter to pay $2000-3000 to settle the dispute.  Although you may negotiate a lesser amount, it’s a headache and a disruption to your business.

As an Intellectual Property Attorney, I help my clients protect their intellectual property.  Just as important, I help them avoid infringing the intellectual property rights of other people.

Here’s a simple rule:  Do not copy images or other content from the Internet (or any other source) without permission. 

Even though an image, article or other creative work does not have a visible copyright notice, it probably has a copyright owner.  If you want to be safe, assume that all images and other content on the Internet are copyrighted.

Safe Use of Images (and Other Content)

The list below discusses the safe use of images, but the same principles apply to all types of content, such as articles, books, diagrams, infographics, product names, and company names.

To avoid receiving a nasty copyright infringement letter, follow one of the approaches below to safely obtain images used in your business.

  1. Create an image yourself by taking a photo or creating a graphical design on your computer. You are now the copyright owner of the new image. Look through the images on your cell phone or camera to see if you already have the perfect image for your project.
  2. Hire someone to create the image. If you use this approach, I recommend a written agreement clearly stating that you (or your company) own all intellectual property rights to the image created.
  3. Purchase the image from an image source. Many companies sell images for use in your business. When purchasing an image, check the rights you receive so you are able to use the image in the desired manner.  For example, some images may be restricted to print-only use or website-only use.  Read the license agreement to understand restrictions on use of the image.
  4. Get permission from the copyright owner. I recommend getting the permission in writing along with details regarding any restrictions on how you can use the image and what type of attribution to provide to the copyright owner.

By using one of the techniques discussed above, you can focus on growing your business instead of worrying about receiving a copyright infringement letter from an attorney.

For more information about protecting your intellectual property, click here to download my Free Intellectual Property Checklist at

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, click to download my Free Intellectual Property Checklist at

3 of My Favorite Business Books – Have You Read Any of These?

James Altucher once said, “Read every book, blog, website, whatever about what you want to be an expert in.”

When I got my start in the business world, books became some of my best friends. They spoke to me in ways mere humans could not, they were a constant companion when there was no one on the other end of the phone to call, they were there in hotel rooms and on airplanes.

These are some of my recent favorites – so whether you’re looking for a fresh source of inspiration, education, or just plain entertainment, consider checking these out. There are lots of great titles out there, but these have been really meaningful to me.

Book 1: The Introvert’s Edge

This book explains that selling is a skill anyone can learn and master—and introverts are especially good at it once they learn how to leverage their natural strengths. Although the book discusses sales, the systems and principles are useful in any situation. As an introvert myself, I found this book highly useful and I’m applying the systems in my own life.

One of my favorite quotes from this book is:

“Here’s the advantage in sales we introverts have over our extroverted peers: We don’t rely on our personality. In the absence of natural talent, we have to rely on a process … and in the long-run, process beats personality. Every time.”

If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.

Book 2: The Little Things

I’ve been told hundreds of times “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and “Ignore those piddly details.” But, what if that advice was wrong? This book is a collection of wonderfully told stories that illustrate situations where the little things changed everything. This book has changed the way I think about the details of my business.

One of my favorite quotes from this book is:

“Your life’s compass responds to the same principles and yields the same measure of movement as the compass on a boat.  Small moves can equal great gains.  In fact, when small moves are repeated consistently over time, you’ll one day look up and realize you’ve traveled all the way from where you were to exactly where you always dreamed you’d be.”

If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.

Book 3: Lingo

The best way to have a successful business is to work with your ideal clients or customers. These clients value your offering and pay you what it’s worth – and they are fun to work with. But, many businesses struggle to find these ideal clients.  This book teaches you how to speak your clients’ secret language, which makes your business irresistible to those ideal clients.

One of my favorite quotes from this book is:

“The most important reason familiarity is an essential part of speaking your audience’s secret language is that familiarity will attract your ideal customers and filter out the rest.”

If you’d like to get it on Amazon, here’s the link.

What are some of your favorite books? I would love to hear about them. Please leave a comment below!

How are you Celebrating World Creativity and Innovation Week?

Did you forget about this important event?

Maybe you’ve never even heard of World Creativity and Innovation Week? If so, you’re not alone 🙂

It’s a real event and celebrates creative thinking and innovation throughout the world.

So, now that you know about World Creativity and Innovation Week (April 15-21), here are some ideas for creative activities:

1. Exercise your creativity in a new environment. Get out of your home or office and go to a new place – a new store, coffee shop, park or hiking trail. Spend time in this new environment doing some creative thinking. Consider solutions to a problem you are facing at home or at work, think about new ideas for your business or think about how to improve the lives of others.

2. Start a conversation with a friend or co-worker to discuss creative ideas. This can be a planned activity or an impromptu discussion. Think of this as a mini brainstorming session. Discuss a common interest you share with the other person and think about ways to spend more time enjoying that common interest.

3. Identify a common trend and think about the changes that will be caused by the trend over the next few years. What kind of changes can you (or your business) start making now to benefit from that trend and make your life or your business more successful and more enjoyable.
Personally, I’m doing all three of the above activities this week:

– I have visited a new park and enjoyed a relaxing walk through the woods. Once I got out of my office and was surrounded by nothing but trees and fresh air, my mind started exploding with new ideas.

– I enjoyed discussions with several friends about my upcoming business activities and brainstormed how to improve those activities.

– I am making use of the growing trend of online learning and online courses. I am developing a new online course that will teach entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and others how to protect their intellectual property. I still have plenty of work to complete this course, but I made significant progress this week. Keep watch for my official announcement of the course within the next two weeks.

What one action can you take to celebrate World Creativity and Innovation Week and make a positive impact on your life or your business?

21 Day Innovation Challenge

Welcome to the 21 Day Innovation Challenge.  Each day I will provide one small tip or action step you can take to help you start incorporating innovation into your business.  As we go on this 21 day journey, you will learn a system for developing innovative ideas, protecting those ideas, and using the innovations to grow your business.  If you follow the daily activities, you will be surprised at the ideas you discover over the next 21 days and maybe even realize that you are more creative than you thought!

These activities are perfect for solo entrepreneurs, contractors, and employees.  Everyone can benefit from a boost in creativity!

This blog post will be updated each day during the 21 Day Innovation Challenge.  If you miss a day, you can always catch up the next day.

You can access this article at the same link every day:

There’s no cost to participate in the challenge.  I encourage you to invite your friends and co-workers.

Please leave comments below to share your insights and experiences.  Also, feel free to ask questions in the comments – I will personally answer all questions.

OK, let’s get started….

Day 1

For Day 1, I have two simple activities for you.  These activities are important to set the foundation for the following 20 days.  Here are your Day 1 activities:

  1. Clear out any negative thoughts about whether you are creative. I’ve worked with thousands of people with all types of backgrounds, education, and experience.  The one consistent thing among all these people:  Every person has the ability to develop unique and creative ideas!  Go into this challenge with an open mind about innovation and your own creativity.  I will show you a system for activating your creative energy and developing innovative ideas.  Trust me!
  2. Get ready to record all of your brilliant ideas. Many of your creative ideas will pop into your head when you least expect it.  Be ready to record those ideas immediately.  Here are my favorite tools for quickly capturing your “flashes of brilliance”:
    • Smartphone – Use the notes app, email the idea to yourself, leave yourself a voicemail message, or text the idea to yourself.
    • Paper and Pen – Yes, this is old fashioned, but it works! Keep a pad of paper and pen in your car, on your nightstand (for those middle-of-the-night ideas), or wherever you have your best ideas.  It only takes 15 seconds to jot down your idea.
    • Shower – If you’re like most people, you get lots of great ideas in the shower. But, your smartphone and paper/pen don’t work there.  One solution is a product called AquaNotes® – they’re like Post-it® brand notes, but you can write on them when they are wet.  They mount to the wall of your shower with suction cups.  It’s a great invention and “prevents your ideas from going down the drain!”

That’s all for Day 1.  Work on these two activities so you’re ready to keep making progress tomorrow.

Day 2

Welcome to Day 2!  Today I want to provide a couple definitions of innovation.  Two common definitions are: Continue reading

Reduce Business Expenses by Analyzing Business Procedures

An Innovation Strategy provides many opportunities to reduce your company’s expenses. Properly managed innovation can streamline internal procedures, enhance the product development process, and simplify manufacturing operations, all of which can reduce business costs.

Innovating internal procedures includes managing the flow of information and documents throughout the company, and managing the handling and prioritizing of internal tasks. In some situations, innovating an internal procedure eliminates several steps or bottlenecks in the existing procedures. The streamlining of manufacturing and development procedures can accelerate the manufacturing or development process, which results in a cost savings to the business.

When evaluating a business procedure, look for steps in the procedure that are not necessary, and eliminate those steps.  I have worked with several clients that were preforming internal procedures that were unnecessary.  When asked why they were performing the procedures, a common answer was “That’s the way we’ve always done things.”  Use your own creativity and the innovative ideas of company employees to evaluate all business procedures, looking for ways to simplify or eliminate the procedure.

When analyzing a business procedure, look for alternate ways to perform particular steps and ways to automate portions of the procedure. Additionally, look for approaches to consolidating multiple procedures into a single activity or performing multiple steps simultaneously to save time and resources.

By simplifying or eliminating certain internal business procedures, you can reduce business costs by requiring fewer resources to perform the procedure and reducing the time required to complete the procedure. Analyze your internal business procedures on a regular basis to continually find new ways to streamline those procedures.

Innovative Thinking – Do Light Bulbs Make A Difference?

Many factors can affect your ability to innovate and think creatively.  Location, noise/activity level, and time of day all have an influence on your innovative thinking.  An article in Fast Company suggests that the image of a conventional light bulb (an incandescent bulb) improves a viewer’s insight and creative thinking.  Click here to read the full article in Fast Company.

The light bulb is used regularly as an indicator of creative ideas and innovations.  However, this article (and the related study) suggests that surrounding yourself with innovative objects or symbols – such as the conventional light bulb – improves creativity.  This study compared the performance of participants who viewed a conventional light bulb as compared to those who viewed an overhead fluorescent light.

The results of the study are based on the presence of the light bulb, not the actual light emitted by the bulb.  The bulb itself can be disconnected from an electrical socket and still have a positive influence on a person’s thinking ability.  The “power” of the conventional light bulb appears to be its symbolic value as an indicator of innovation and creative thinking.

What other symbols come to mind when you think of Innovation?

Steve Sponseller is an Intellectual Property Attorney and Innovation Strategist. He has 25 years of experience helping more than 1000 inventors and business leaders identify, develop, and protect innovative ideas. Get a complimentary copy of his Innovation Strategy Checklist to start creating a steady stream of innovative ideas that give your company a competitive advantage.


3 Ways To Boost Your Creativity Today

Everyone knows that you need to apply creativity to your business to make it succeed. This creative effort has a clear end in mind – to develop innovative products or streamline your business processes to increase profits. But, what can you do when you are just not feeling creative? Here are three great ways to give your creativity an instant boost.

1. Take Pictures

A fantastic way to get your creativity flowing is to grab a camera or your smartphone and take some pictures. It’s an easy way to create something no matter where you are located. You can take pictures at home, at work, or anywhere.

To make it more fun and creatively stimulating, pick something as a theme. A good theme is to choose a color and look for things to snap that are that color. Another idea is to pick Continue reading

Discovering Innovative Ideas

Do you ever struggle with a business problem that requires creativity? If you’re like many people, you sit at your desk and get to work on the problem. You may twirl pencils, crumple up pieces of paper, gaze out the window, and take occasional breaks to pace or get another cup of coffee. But, do you find that the ideas are not materializing?

Some creative people can generate ideas anytime anywhere. But most of us have certain activities that get our creative juices flowing. If you want to perform at your creative peak, you need to identify these activities and use them to your advantage.

Sleeping and Waking

For some reason, sleep seems to bring out the creative ideas in many people. Maybe it has something to do with Continue reading

Boost Your Creativity with an Idea File

If you want to harness the power of your inner creativity to do great things in your business, start an idea file. An idea file is a list of ideas that you can draw on anytime you need one. Think of it as your “backburner.” One of my clients refers to it as an “Innovation Parking Lot” – a place where they collect innovative ideas for future inspiration.

Why You Should Keep an Idea File

The main reason it’s important to have an idea file is that it provides ideas when you need them, but there are other benefits as well. An idea file helps you organize your creative thoughts. With several ideas written down and ready to go, you can choose the idea you feel most inspired to run with at the moment.

An idea file also allows you to capture ideas whenever inspiration hits. You can jot down the idea no matter where you are Continue reading