Photo by Flickr (ITworld/Phil Johnson)
As we discussed last month, now is a good time to step back and make sure your business is starting off the New Year on the right track! Did you incorporate any changes to your company last month to make sure you avoid some of these common mistakes business owners make?
It’s never too late to implement small and effective changes to contribute to your company’s overall legal health.
This month we’ll discuss the importance of protecting your intellectual property. As a reminder, while these are general tips, it is important to consult with an attorney individually if you have specific questions or concerns. The following is not intended to be legal advice.
Mistake # 7 – Protect Your Intellectual Property!
You may think that your new business does not have any protectable Intellectual Property (“IP”)—but what about the name of your company, the content on your company’s website, or the unique way you design one of your products? All of these can and should be protected to make sure your business is a success and no one tries to steal your million-dollar idea.
Different types of IP are protected by different means or laws: patents protect processes, machines, manufacturing, or what something is made of (or “inventions”); trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others (or “logos” and “slogans”); and copyrights protect original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works (or “content”).
What kind of Intellectual Property should you be protecting in your business?
This month we’ll turn to an expert for some helpful steps a startup should take to protect their IP assets. Kelly Fitzsimmons shared some tips on Inc.com in her article, 10 Ways to Protect Your Intellectual Property, and we’ve highlighted a few of those tips below.
- Patent what is important to others, not just [what’s important] to you.
- Make time to get smart on intellectual property. Educate yourself and team on the basics of trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets. Investing a day or two early on will save headaches later.
- Reduce costs by doing your own IP searches first. Start with a Google patent search at google.com/patents.
- Work with an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and ask for a fixed rate to file.
- Patents aren’t your only asset. Conduct an audit to identify all your registered and unregistered trademarks and copyrights.
- Invest in well-written non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Make sure your employment agreements, licenses, sales contracts, and technology transfer agreements all protect your intellectual property too, right from the get-go.
- File as fast as you can. A patent application holds your place in line. You will have 12 months from that initial submission to expand upon your filing. And remember, U.S. patents can take more than five years to issue.
- Investigate international patents if key competitors are outside the U.S. A U.S. patent will not protect you against competitors in Europe, never mind China.
- Think hard about the future. From your vantage point, what does the future look like? Use this information to devise your patent strategy, and to figure out which of your work needs to be legally protected. From there, your patent applications should flow.
Like the article says, take a moment to think about your future and figure out what steps you should take today to protect some of your company’s most valuable assets: intellectual property.
Next Month: “Mistake #8 – Planning for the Future”
About Leah Barteld Clague, Esq.
Leah Barteld Clague is an attorney with McLaughlin Law Group, a boutique law firm focused on corporate (small business), estate planning, and estate and trust administration, and tax law. McLaughlin Law Group, started by L. Content McLaughlin, serves clients throughout Maryland. Leah started with the firm in August 2012 after graduating from the University of Maryland, School of Law. Prior to law school, Leah completed her MBA and worked as a financial analyst in both the private and public sector.
In addition to estate planning, Leah has a passion for working with small businesses. As a student, she helped grow a program called “The York (PA) Business Academy” that provided brief classes on marketing, management, financing, and legal issues for small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. More recently, she consulted for a number of for-profit and non-profit clients and developed business plans, financial models, and marketing strategies that were presented to venture capitalists.
Feel free to contact Leah at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-660-2095.