Intellectual Property: Tips and Strategies for Entrepreneurs and SMEs

The point of this blogpost is to give a little insight on how to approach the project of getting the maximum legal protection for your intellectual property.

Kinds of Legal Protection of Intellectual Property

Legal protection of intellectual property comes from a few different sources: copyright, trademark, industrial design, trade secrets and patents. We are not going to get super deep into any of them in this post, but want to make sure that everyone has a general understanding of what each area of law does.

Copyright: protects creative expression. Not ideas, but things that are actually expressed. This would cover writing, sculpture, music, visual art, etc.

Trademark: protects brands. A good trademark acts as a “source identifier” and a developed brand can become a company’s single most valuable asset.

Trade Secrets: protects confidential information. Things like NDAs serve to protect trade secrets. Things like customer lists and methods of doing business might qualify as trade secrets.

Patents: protects novel inventions. Securing a patent can be expensive, but gives the owner the ability to have exclusive use of his or her invention.

Industrial Design: protects designs on physical goods. Cloth patterns, 3D designs on goods etc.

Many businesses will use some combination of the four (plus other random protections, not listed here – these are just the big ones) to get legal protection of intellectual property they produce.

Strategies for Legal Protection of Intellectual Property

Even knowing about the types of legal protection of intellectual property may not be sufficient to develop a practical strategy; the question of when and how to actually put the proper protection in place still remains. Here are a few pointers to help get things started:

Legal protection of intellectual property is an ongoing process. It’s an ongoing process. Depending on the development of one’s business, there will always be some sort of intellectual property to protect and it is important to reevaluate strategies as things move forward. For instance, if you are a photographer, you may have registered a copyright in some of your works, but as you make more, you will need to protect the newer works as well.

Trademarks and copyrights offer protection from the time they are used, registration enhances it. Both trademarks and copyrights can be registered – and valuable trademarks and copyrights should be. There are actions you can take to protect valuable trademarks and copyrights even if not registered, but registration gives you a huge bargaining chip.

The earlier the better. It’s never too early to think about how you can protect your intellectual property. Getting advice on what to do early on can prevent costly mistakes or missed future opportunities. For instance, when choosing a name for your business or offering, have you considered the reasons why your name might not be registered as a trademark? Doing so prevents you from investing a bunch of time and resources in a brand that will only get limited protection or have a conflict with other people. Preventable problems like this are worth thinking about early on.

It’s never too late. We get that taking care of these legal issues doesn’t seem like the most interesting part of running a business, but it is crucial for long-term survival of any creative business. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t done these things – there is always time to go back and find more ways of protecting your creative work.

Learning about the law is part of a creative business owner’s job. Any entrepreneur wears many hats; understanding the law is part of that hat-wearing exercise. Don’t be intimidated and if there are things that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to get legal advice. Yes, it costs money, but it’s an investment in the future of your business.

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