If your business isn't in a creative industry, you may not have thought much about intellectual property protection. The surprising truth is that many small businesses own some form of intellectual property and, yes, that property is well worth protecting. Much like insurance, you want intellectual property protection in place before you actually need it.
So, What Are You Protecting?
Before we investigate some cost-effective ways to protect your intellectual property, let's take a look at the primary categories of intellectual property.
- Copyright – Whether it's words, art or music, original works are covered by copyright law.
- Patent – Have an invention of some sort? You'll be looking to patent laws to protect your rights over that creation.
- Trademark – Trademark law provides protection for things such as logos and symbols associated with your company's brand.
Keep in mind that intellectual property protection is about protecting your rights as owner of that property. Once you've identified the type of intellectual property you own and want to protect, it's time to investigate some cost-effective ways to protect those rights.
Register Your Intellectual Property
Whether we're talking about a copyright, trademark or patent, registering your original creation is the most important step you can take to protect your intellectual property rights.
Is registration always required? In the case of copyright, you own the copyright to your original work from the moment you set it down into tangible form. When it comes to trademarks, you attain rights to a trademark through your use of it. But going through the registration process has many benefits, as doing so will make your ownership of the rights a matter of public record, making it easier if you ever have to deal with infringement of your rights.
Patents are a different story, though. Protection isn't automatic, so you must apply for a patent to protect your invention. Unfortunately, the patent application process is an expensive one, but you may be able to apply for a provisional patent, which is less costly and has fewer requirements than a full patent application. While a provisional patent only provides you with 12 months of protection, you can use this time to assess your invention's potential and determine whether it's worthwhile to apply for a regular patent.
Always Use an Intellectual Property Licensing Agreement
Thinking about making some money off of your intellectual property by letting another individual or business use it? Licensing is a good way to generate income from these intangible assets, but it's important to put the terms in writing.
Whether you're licensing a copyright, trademark or patent, the essentials of the agreement are that you're letting another party use the intellectual property in question. You are not, however, transferring ownership. With a licensing agreement, you can set the parameters of that use and also make clear that you're not transferring any rights of ownership.Thinking about making some money off of your intellectual property by letting another individual or business use it? Licensing is a good way to generate income from these intangible assets, but it's important to put the terms in writing. #Youpreneur Click To Tweet
What About Works or Inventions Created by Employees?
It's not feasible for small-business owners to do it all. If you're considering hiring staff to help you develop products or turn ideas into a tangible reality, it's important to clarify your ownership of the intellectual property associated with any works or inventions created by your employees.
You can easily do this with an intellectual property assignment agreement. Such agreements ensure that you retain ownership over any works or inventions your employees create as part of their employment with you. Setting this out in writing will reduce potential conflicts or misunderstandings with employees in the future.
Protecting your business's intellectual property doesn't have to be an onerous, cost-prohibitive task. And while implementing these cost-effective protection measures won't guarantee that no one will infringe on your intellectual property rights, having them in place will save you needless headaches should you ever have to make an infringement claim.