One of our most popular articles was written back in 2017. ‘Protect My Business from Competitors?‘ discussed four key areas that you should focus on: staffing, protecting intellectual property, customer loyalty, and creating high-quality products. With this article, I wanted to focus on 3 ways to protect your intellectual property.
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What Is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property (IP) includes patents, copyrights, industrial designs, trademarks, plant varietals, trade dress, sometimes trade secrets and geographical locations (think Kentucky bourbon). We often refer intellectual property to as intangible property, which means its not physical. Digital assets are also increasingly recognized as IP and this includes such things as proprietary software code/algorithms, online digital content, and online digital media. Sometimes, your domain name can be classified as intellectual property.
Make sure you write down your business ideas in a dated notebook (physical and/or digital). That will help you when it's time to formally register your patent or trademark.
Inventory Your IP
A smart business owner keeps track of her intellectual property. Don’t keep a running list in your head, you’ll forget it! Instead, keep a physical list stored in a secure place as well as a digital list that is readily accessible. If you own patents or registered trademarks. You will be responsible for keeping up the maintenance payments. Your attorney will keep you informed. Or, if you did these filings yourself, be sure to set reminders.
3 Simple Ways to Protect Your IP
Trademarks can be registered online without an attorney. If you have a complex mark that will be used in a variety of methods, it may be useful to consult an attorney. A recent check of prices indicated that online fees started around $249. Make sure you use a reputable online service if you are not going to file directly with the US Patent and Trademark office.
Registering a copyright may or may not be necessary. You can use a service like LegalZoom or do it yourself by checking the instructions at the US Copyright Office.
One of the easiest methods to protect your IP when dealing with vendors, contractors, or even employees is to have a signed Non-Disclosure Agreement. RocketLawyer offers a convenient template that you can use to create a state-specific NDA.
I’ve listed three relatively simple ways to protect the intellectual property of your business from competitors. I’m not an attorney and I strongly suggest you consult with an attorney before making any legal decision.
While this gives you formal protection, it won’t protect you from the evil of patent trolls or other willfully infringing parties. How have you approoached protecting your business-related IP?