Protecting Your Intellectual Property: Why Small Business Owners Should Care

The theft of intellectual property (IP) is estimated to cost U.S. businesses (small, mid-size and large) up to $250 billion a year due to stolen ideas and lost revenue. The unlawful use of a business idea, a competitor using a similar logo, copied packaging or the disclosure of a secret recipe to the public are events that can cause hardships for a business. In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) created a dedicated website to help small businesses counter intellectual property threats and to inform the public on the benefits of a strong IP protection.

As you start considering how to protect your company’s intellectual property, here’s a broad overview of the different types of protection available:

Trademarks are used to protect words and symbols that represent your company or brand. You can either officially register your trademark with the USPTO or eventually qualify for common-law trademark rights if you use your trademark for business purposes consistently and continuously.

Copyrights are designed to give writers, artists and musicians, or companies that house this kind of intellectual capital, exclusive rights to control when and how their work is reproduced and distributed.

Patents are used to exclude others from making, using, selling inventions or offering to sell them. The idea is to prevent others from using the invention or claiming it as their own.

Pull Quote.pngIn addition to protecting your intellectual property, you may be able to derive additional business value from it. You can start by taking an inventory of what undiscovered IP you may have in your company. Intellectual property may be obvious, like software or a unique invention. However, the following may also be intellectual property: business models, customer data and employee expertise and software code are also intellectual property. According to Inc., the following are some examples of ways to capitalize on intellectual property:

If you have a great brand, you can license your name or logo to other companies for co-branding.
If your business is data or research heavy, you may be able to repackage customer, market and industry information for sale to other companies or to raise your profile as an industry leader.
If you have a homegrown product that has more than one use, you can license it to a wide variety of unrelated industries.

You wouldn’t think of taping your business plan to the front window of your business, or leaving your inventory on the front curb. Why would you leave your IP exposed, vulnerable and free for the taking? Take steps today to protect your small business.

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