Intellectual property (IP) is essentially any unique product or service that you have created on your own time. For instance, an entrepreneur who has designed a new software program would have intellectual property that he or she would want to protect in order to turn a profit on the creation.
On the other hand, a programmer who comes up with a unique creation on company time would not have intellectual property to lay claim to, as the unique creation would be the property of the programmer’s employer.
A freelance chef working on his or her own time may claim intellectual property if he or she has come up with a brand-new dish; however, he or she would not be able to claim IP if the recipe is largely based on another person’s work, with only a few modifications.
Intellectual property also includes property that you have legally purchased or acquired. For instance, your logo would be your intellectual property even if you hired a freelance designer to create it for you, as you paid for the service and therefore own the final product.
If you purchase another company, you own that company’s unique products, designs, and/or services, even if you did not originally create these forms of intellectual property. Furthermore, intellectual property isn’t always a tangible item. A process for creating, modifying, or repairing something can also qualify as “intellectual property” if this process is unique to your business.
Why is Intellectual Property so Important?
Protecting intellectual property can spell the difference between success and failure for any business owner. If another person is able to replicate your products and/or services, you will lose not just potential profits but also the money you invested in creating your unique goods and/or services.
Here are five tips to help you protect what is rightfully yours, so you can enjoy the full fruits of your labors.
- Trademark Your Name and Logo
Your company name is unique; therefore, it belongs to you and other businesses should not be allowed to use it without your permission. If you designed your own logo or paid a designer to create one for you, then your logo is intellectual property as well.
If a business similar to yours can use your name and logo without consequence, customers will mistake that business for yours, and you will lose the brand loyalty that drives clients to make repeated purchases from you.
You’ll want to research how to trademark a logo and business name to protect your business from unscrupulous entrepreneurs or business owners.
- Address Copyright Issues on Your Content and Website
It’s all too easy for individuals to copy text and images from a website and use it on their own. It can be disheartening to spend hours creating a winning blog post, only to have someone copy it in its entirely, paste it on their own blog, and get the visits and clicks that should be rightfully yours.
Thankfully, there are measures you can take to protect your image and text content from thefts. If someone publishes your content online, without permission or attribution, you can file a DMCA notice with Google to request that this content be taken down. If someone uses your content for a YouTube video, you can notify YouTube and either have the content removed or gain access to the advertising revenue that the video in question may be generating.
It’s equally important that you make sure your website does not use content, images, or designs in a manner that infringes on someone else’s copyright. If you hired a designer to create a website design for your business, make sure the images he or she uses are unique and not simply cut and pasted from other websites. If you use images, text, or video content that doesn’t belong to you, provide proper attribution so the author of the content gets the credit he or she deserves.
- Make Sure Your Contracts are Strict with NDA’s
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are contracts that stop employees and contractors from purposely or inadvertently divulging confidential information about your products and/or mode of operation. If you hire someone to create a product for your business, the NDA will stop that person from telling a future employer how he or she designed the product for you or copying your products to sell on his or her own.
If you hire a firm to manufacture your products, the NDA will stop the contractor from designing that same product for another business, or sharing information about how that product was designed with other people or business entities.
An NDA does not take the place of a patent, as it does not give your business the legal right to claim the intellectual property as your own. However, unlike a patent, it does protect your proprietary information from those who would use it for their own ends.
- Create Employee Awareness About IP
One of the main ways in which employees may inadvertently share your intellectual property with an unauthorized third party is via computer. Teaching employees about IT security will help them detect the ways in which cybercriminals may try to access your information via an unauthorized email, ransomware attack, or other underhand tactics.
You will need to put rules in place regarding the use of strong passwords, two-factor authentication, the storage of certain types of files online and on hard disks, and the use of email to share company information with colleagues and/or contractors.
At the same time, you will want to restrict IP information to those who need to know it. Managers who have access to proprietary information should know that their access information should not be shared with any third party. An employee who needs to access confidential information should have a special log-in that is not used by other employees, and this employee should not use the same password used by other employees.
- Are Patents Relevant to You?
Patenting your intellectual property shows that you are the inventor/owner of the property in question. It protects you from legal action by individuals or companies that may wrongly claim you stole their IP to use for your own purposes. At the same time, patents have their downsides, the main one being the fact that you will have to divulge proprietary information about your products/services in order to obtain a patent.
This information can then be accessed and used by third parties that may want to find out your trade secrets. Additionally, obtaining a patent can be both difficult and expensive. You will likely need the help of one or more intellectual property attorneys as you will have to secure a patent in every single country where your products are sold.
Most companies don’t need to patent their intellectual property. If your property is a process rather than a tangible product, there is likely no benefit in obtaining a patent as it would be difficult to prove that another company has deliberately stolen your process from you. Furthermore, products that are no “sufficiently unique” cannot be patented. To benefit from a patent, you would need a completely unique product that could potentially generate a large sum of money.
Are you protected?
Small businesses and entrepreneurs can create some amazing processes, products, and designs. These forms of intellectual property should be protected as they are unique to the person who created them and that person should derive the full financial benefits from the use and sale of his or her own property.
If you’ve read the above tips and recognize that you have intellectual property, it’s time to take action to protect what is yours from misuse or theft. Consider the options outlined above, talk to an intellectual property attorney if you need expert, customized help, and then take action to secure your intellectual property, so you can benefit from all that it has to offer both now and in the future.