To many a small business owner, legalese can inspire fear in the heart. Intellectual property law is no exception, but this critical legal concept is tantamount to the health and well-being of your business. As Darren Dahl of the New York Times points out, “They see images of expensive lawyers and use that as an excuse to ignore the topic, reasoning that it is a problem for big companies to worry about.” He goes on to point out that through the rise of the internet, protecting your intellectual property has become a necessity. Small businesses are threatened more so, due to the lack of personnel to police intellectual property infringement.
So, let’s decode exactly what intellectual property means, and when you need to call in a lawyer to help your organization.
You have an idea, and you want to protect it. That idea could be a product, a logo, or an original concept. Intellectual property law is how you can protect that idea from being copied. Copyrights, patents and trademarks can help ensure your idea remains your.
If you’ve created an intellectual work, such as music, printed materials, or blogs, you can claim the work with a submitted original copy of the work, $35 and an application submitted online. No lawyers are needed, at least until you catch someone claiming your work as their own.
The steps to establishing a trademark, such as a logo or a phrase, is a bit more involved than copyrighting a work. This is particularly true if you want to extend your trademark overseas. STOPfakes.gov lays out the process by which one can apply for a trademark. Establishing eligibility, searching the established trademark database to make sure your trademark is, in fact, original and then submitting an application will ensure your trademark is protected in the United States. These services are free to boot.
This area of intellectual property requires a lawyer. Lawyers.com makes no bones about the complexities of patent law. Establishing rights of a product, process or method can get expensive, but there are plenty of resources out there to guide you.
Hopefully, this mini-guide will help you through the world of intellectual property. Your thoughts and ideas are yours. The size of your business shouldn’t discourage you from staking your claims.
This article was written by Christopher Millard for CBS Small Business Pulse