Intellectual Property 101 for Business Owners

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Intellectual property is an essential part of any small business. In fact, the majority of your company’s value is in their non-tangible property such as logos, brands, trade secrets and inventions.

As a small business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in managing time and money to make the most of your business, but it’s equally important that you are well versed with intellectual property rights and how they can affect your business to properly protect your valuable business assets.

There are three types of intellectual property rights that you have to know well, to avoid any lawsuits with other companies and protect your business assets from infringements.

Here is a basic list of the IP rights and how they can apply to your business.

Patent Rights

Most small business owners know about patent rights since they think that patents are the only type of intellectual property protection. This is not true. Continue reading to learn about the various types of legal protections available.

Patent rights are very important in the business world. They protect business property like chemical formulas, new machines, article of manufacture and so on. As a small business owner, it is wise to know that you can not patent an idea, but you can patent a method of running a business as long as it fits a set of certain requirements.

The most applicable type of patent that applies to business owners is the utility patent. The utility type of patent is protecting the “usefulness” of your invention.  They are usually granted to inventions such as:

  • A composition of matter such as a cleaning solution
  • A machine, such as a coffee grinder
  • A set of processes or simply a process like a medical procedure
  • An article of manufacture such as a water dispenser
  • An improvement of an invention that well fits within the above categories

For you to patent a product from your business, it must be new and “not obvious to an average skilled person in the field related to your product”. The quotes in the previous sentence are the criteria that the US Patent and Trademark office will use to determine your approval or rejection of your patent application.

For one to get a patent, they have to be filed by the U.S Patent and Trademark Office. Once a patent is granted, your invention will be protected for 20 years. With a patent, you can fend off other businesses from using, making, or selling your invention in the U.S, or import it into the U.S. I recommend using a professional, and affordable, online solution for your legal patent application such as Legalzoom.

Copyrights

We see the word ‘copyrights’ almost every day as we use products from manufacturers; both digital and physical. A copyright is a right that protects original work.

Most uses of copyrights apply to words and images, such as literature and art. These are examples of copyrighted items: books, photos, speeches, paintings, video and audio productions, and drawings.

As a creator, you can copyright your original work so that no one can reproduce it or use it in a way that you did not intend.

When you create any work, a copyright is assumed. However, it is very important to register your work for a copyright, in case you ever wish to pursue a case of copyright infringement.

As a small business owner, it’s critical that you know how copyrights work. Copyrights mostly apply when it comes to advertising your business. Always ensure that all images you use on your website or in your promotional campaigns are free to use and not copyrighted. If you use a copyrighted image and the owner finds out, you could be charged with copyright infringement and face a penalty of not less than $8000.

Frequently asked questions about copyright

Trademark Rights

Most of us have already seen a logo that has a tiny capital letter “TM” next to it. These tiny writings indicate a registered trademark. A trademark can be a symbol, word, graphics, or sign that you use to differentiate your business from your competitors.

Nowadays, most businesses opt to protect their branding slogans and logos by registering a trademark.  

As a business owner, it is good to have a trademark for your brand name. Getting a trademark is very different from registering a business name for a business license. With a trademark, you have the rights to use your products nationwide for exclusivity, and you also have the legal right to sue anyone who uses your trademark in their business.

For one to obtain a trademark protection, there are two ways to go about it.

  1. You can use the symbol TM to register an unregistered trademark. This is an easy way to apply for intellectual property protection, but it is a very limited, and weak way,  to protect your intellectual property.
  2. The second way, and better way is to get your trademark registered with the U.S Patent and Trademark Office. This way, you will get the most protection for your intellectual property, and in case you need to take legal action, it will be easier to assert your intellectual property rights with legal governmental documentation as proof of first use.

Trademark basics – What you should know before filing

About the Author:

Marsha Kelly sold her first business for more than a million dollars. She has shared hard-won experiences as a successful serial entrepreneur on her Best4Businesses blog. Marsha also regularly posts business tips, ideas, and suggestions as well as product reviews for business readers. As a serial entrepreneur who has done “time” in corporate America, Marsha has learned what products and services really work well in business today. You can learn from her experiences from shopping the internet for tools, supplies, and information to build your businesses and improve lives financially.

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