How to Protect Your Intellectual Property
For some businesses, intellectual property can be one of your most valuable assets. It can include business names, logos, product designs, recipes, and any other product of your creativity that is exclusive to your business.
Though not as big as giants like Starbucks and McDonald’s, a small business owner’s intellectual property still matters. It gives you a competitive advantage, prevents imitation, and contributes to your unique brand. However, in order for that intellectual property to retain its value long-term, you need to protect it. Here are a few different methods you can employ as a small business owner:
Patents | A patent is a license granted by the government for a specific “novel” and “non-obvious” process, design, or invention that gives the owner exclusive rights for a specific period of time. This is ideal for business owners who have come up with some unique product or process for making something. Who knows? You could have the next Frisbee or Yo-Yo on your hands!
Copyrights | Copyrights are typically used for the use and reproduction of specific media, such as graphics, books, music, or videos. This form of protection would be ideal for business owners who create “authored” products such a photographers, writers, and musicians. Registering copyrights is extremely important for business owners who intend to sell or showcase their work online, where it can be easily stolen and reused without permission.
Trademarks | Trademarks are one of the most common forms of intellectual property because it can apply to almost any business. Trademarks protect the words, names, symbols, sounds, and even colors that are used to uniquely distinguish a business and its products or services. This includes your business name, logo, and tagline – three essential components of your business’ brand identity. Having these trademarks, even only on a local level, prevents similar business names and logos from popping-up in your area and confusing customers.
Trade secrets | In situations where businesses wouldn’t be approved for a patent, they can alternatively register their idea as a trade secret. Trade secrets are used to protect the confidentiality of a formula or process that gives a business a competitive advantage. Recipes are an excellent example of trade secrets as they often don’t qualify as “novel” or “non-obvious.”
Non-disclosure agreements | Non-disclosure agreements are the best way for business’ to internally protect their intellectual property. By having employees and business partners sign non-disclosure agreements they can protect against the release or misuse of company secrets particularly those that provide competitive advantages.
While we tend to operate in a highly litigious environment, following these practices will offer protection for you and your business’ key assets. For more information on intellectual property rights visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office.