17 Bright Ideas for Protecting Your Intellectual Property

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17 Bright Ideas for Protecting Your Intellectual Property

If you are a small business then you must read this list on protecting your intellectual property.  Small businesses have a big problem with intellectual property protection. Entrepreneurs know that they should protect their brand, but they don’t really know how, or they’re afraid of the cost. However, if you put off protection, you could wind up paying a lot more when someone swoops in and tries to steal your IP. To help new entrepreneurs navigate the slightly confusing world of intellectual property, here are 17 bright ideas to help you get started! By: Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com

  • 1

    Find a name for your business -  A logical first step! But one you should approach with caution. You simply can’t choose a name and then expect to have a right to it. Rather, you need to perform a business name search to make sure no one else is using it. For that reason, it’s a good idea to have a few ideas for a name. Performing a name search is actually pretty easy – just look on your government’s website for a business portal, and see if they have an online tool.

  • 2

    Register the business’s name -  After you find a name that no one else is using, it’s of paramount importance that you register it. This firstly gives you some rights to that name, and secondly will allow you to start marketing under a name other than your own.

  • 3

    If given the option, register for as long as you can -  Depending on where you’re from, the business name registration forms may ask you to choose how long you’d like to initially register. In Australia, for example, you can choose one year or three years. Always choose the longer option. It’s more expensive, but your first year is going to be hectic, and it’s better to just pay a little more and not have to worry about renewal for another three years.

  • 4

    Buy your domain -  Once your business name is registered, go online and see if you can buy the corresponding domain name – ‘businessname.com’. Sometimes you’ll luck out and it’ll be for sale, other times you might have to get a little creative with the domain name. Just try not to get too far from your business’s actual name. Even if you don’t plan to have a site for a while, it’s a good idea to register a domain and hold onto it.

  • 5

    Claim social media accounts -  Social marketing has become on of the most powerful advertising tools available to small businesses. So, after you have your domain set up, start registering accounts on social media sites. At the very least you should hit the big three – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Again, even if you don’t plan to use them for a while, this will still help you protect your online identity and brand.

  • 6

    Know the difference between trademark and copyright -  A lot of people mix these two up. Trademarks protect images, logos, and arrangements of text. Copyright protects creative works, like music or art. And while you can argue that a logo may be artistic in a way, you normally can’t copyright it. In either case, you have an automatic right to the property after its created and used.

  • 7

    Start marketing -  When you create a logo or other form of trade dress, like a product’s packaging, most countries require that you use it in the marketplace before you’re allowed to claim it as your own. Building your brand early on is a good idea anyway, and you definitely want to be able to register any trademarks as soon as you can.

  • 8

    Register trademarks -  While you may have a right to a mark after you start using it, that right can be difficult to enforce without registration. You could also be infringing on someone else’s mark without realizing it. So it’s a good idea to register your mark after you start to market.

  • 9

    Protect your website -  Copyright protection is automatic – when you design your site, you have a copyright to it. In some countries you can register copyright, while in others, like Australia, a copyright is free to the author. In either case, you should inform people of your right to the site’s contents by including a copyright on the page.

  • 1

    Find a name for your business -  A logical first step! But one you should approach with caution. You simply can’t choose a name and then expect to have a right to it. Rather, you need to perform a business name search to make sure no one else is using it. For that reason, it’s a good idea to have a few ideas for a name. Performing a name search is actually pretty easy – just look on your government’s website for a business portal, and see if they have an online tool.

  • 2

    Register the business’s name -  After you find a name that no one else is using, it’s of paramount importance that you register it. This firstly gives you some rights to that name, and secondly will allow you to start marketing under a name other than your own.

  • 3

    If given the option, register for as long as you can -  Depending on where you’re from, the business name registration forms may ask you to choose how long you’d like to initially register. In Australia, for example, you can choose one year or three years. Always choose the longer option. It’s more expensive, but your first year is going to be hectic, and it’s better to just pay a little more and not have to worry about renewal for another three years.

  • 4

    Buy your domain -  Once your business name is registered, go online and see if you can buy the corresponding domain name – ‘businessname.com’. Sometimes you’ll luck out and it’ll be for sale, other times you might have to get a little creative with the domain name. Just try not to get too far from your business’s actual name. Even if you don’t plan to have a site for a while, it’s a good idea to register a domain and hold onto it.

  • 5

    Claim social media accounts -  Social marketing has become on of the most powerful advertising tools available to small businesses. So, after you have your domain set up, start registering accounts on social media sites. At the very least you should hit the big three – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Again, even if you don’t plan to use them for a while, this will still help you protect your online identity and brand.

  • 6

    Know the difference between trademark and copyright -  A lot of people mix these two up. Trademarks protect images, logos, and arrangements of text. Copyright protects creative works, like music or art. And while you can argue that a logo may be artistic in a way, you normally can’t copyright it. In either case, you have an automatic right to the property after its created and used.

  • 7

    Start marketing -  When you create a logo or other form of trade dress, like a product’s packaging, most countries require that you use it in the marketplace before you’re allowed to claim it as your own. Building your brand early on is a good idea anyway, and you definitely want to be able to register any trademarks as soon as you can.

  • 8

    Register trademarks -  While you may have a right to a mark after you start using it, that right can be difficult to enforce without registration. You could also be infringing on someone else’s mark without realizing it. So it’s a good idea to register your mark after you start to market.

  • 9

    Protect your website -  Copyright protection is automatic – when you design your site, you have a copyright to it. In some countries you can register copyright, while in others, like Australia, a copyright is free to the author. In either case, you should inform people of your right to the site’s contents by including a copyright on the page.

  • 10

    Design from scratch -  When you do begin to design your logo or your site, always start from scratch. Don’t borrow elements from other logos and sites, no matter how nice they look. I know it can be hard to design something completely unique, but if you want to be able to enforce your IP rights, you need to be the creator.

  • 11

    Write unique content -  This goes hand-in-hand with designing your site from scratch. It may be tempting to lift content off of another site, or just slightly rearrange it, but doing so is IP theft and negates your right to your site. It isn’t exactly exciting to write filler text, but doing so strengthens your case to claim the property.

  • 12

    Market carefully -  I see a lot of small businesses, especially on social media, use popular images or memes as a marketing tool. And while it’s true that these infractions will probably go unnoticed, you can’t use someone else’s image to market your business. You want to stay in a position where you can claim, or prove you have a right, to any materials you use to market. Otherwise, infringement on your IP by other people can become muddled.

  • 13

    Demonstrate your idea -  Businesses that are built on a new product or idea need to be able to prove that the idea was theirs. Take a picture of a prototype, or make a copy of the design, and mail it to yourself so you have a dated envelope to prove when you thought up the idea. They call this the poor-man’s patent, and while you should also patent anything you invent, the patent process is long and arduous. Having this back up in the meantime doesn’t hurt.

  • 14

    Use Non-Disclosure Agreements -  I’ve worked with a lot of small business owners who see non-disclosure agreements as being overkill. And while I know it feels weird to ask people to sign an NDA when you talk about your idea with them, you need to protect that idea, as it will be the seed from which your business blooms. Always err on the side of caution.

  • 15

    Write down renewal dates -  Believe it or not, a calendar can be one of the best tools for protecting your intellectual property. Running a business is hard work, and you will forget important dates. If you let a trademark, domain name, or business name lapse, you’ll wind up fighting an uphill battle to get everything re-instated. Even if the renewal is ten years in the future, keep a note in the back of your calendar to remind you.

  • 16

    Keep an eye out for infringement -  While your government’s trademark and patent offices will certainly monitor new applications for infringement, you should still watch for people who are trying to steal your IP. Recently I actually found an international version of my website – they just changed some of the pictures and the phone number!

  • 17

    Enforce your rights -  This part can be frightening, and requires you to be a bit confrontational. But remember, your intellectual property is just that – property. It can be stolen. And if someone stole your bike, or your phone, you’d definitely enforce your rights to that property! Don’t let people get away with IP infringement. Find a professional to help you send a cease and desist, and protect what is yours.

    • About the Author: Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Twitter @mycorporation.

  • 10

    Design from scratch -  When you do begin to design your logo or your site, always start from scratch. Don’t borrow elements from other logos and sites, no matter how nice they look. I know it can be hard to design something completely unique, but if you want to be able to enforce your IP rights, you need to be the creator.

  • 11

    Write unique content -  This goes hand-in-hand with designing your site from scratch. It may be tempting to lift content off of another site, or just slightly rearrange it, but doing so is IP theft and negates your right to your site. It isn’t exactly exciting to write filler text, but doing so strengthens your case to claim the property.

  • 12

    Market carefully -  I see a lot of small businesses, especially on social media, use popular images or memes as a marketing tool. And while it’s true that these infractions will probably go unnoticed, you can’t use someone else’s image to market your business. You want to stay in a position where you can claim, or prove you have a right, to any materials you use to market. Otherwise, infringement on your IP by other people can become muddled.

  • 13

    Demonstrate your idea -  Businesses that are built on a new product or idea need to be able to prove that the idea was theirs. Take a picture of a prototype, or make a copy of the design, and mail it to yourself so you have a dated envelope to prove when you thought up the idea. They call this the poor-man’s patent, and while you should also patent anything you invent, the patent process is long and arduous. Having this back up in the meantime doesn’t hurt.

  • 14

    Use Non-Disclosure Agreements -  I’ve worked with a lot of small business owners who see non-disclosure agreements as being overkill. And while I know it feels weird to ask people to sign an NDA when you talk about your idea with them, you need to protect that idea, as it will be the seed from which your business blooms. Always err on the side of caution.

  • 15

    Write down renewal dates -  Believe it or not, a calendar can be one of the best tools for protecting your intellectual property. Running a business is hard work, and you will forget important dates. If you let a trademark, domain name, or business name lapse, you’ll wind up fighting an uphill battle to get everything re-instated. Even if the renewal is ten years in the future, keep a note in the back of your calendar to remind you.

  • 16

    Keep an eye out for infringement -  While your government’s trademark and patent offices will certainly monitor new applications for infringement, you should still watch for people who are trying to steal your IP. Recently I actually found an international version of my website – they just changed some of the pictures and the phone number!

  • 17

    Enforce your rights -  This part can be frightening, and requires you to be a bit confrontational. But remember, your intellectual property is just that – property. It can be stolen. And if someone stole your bike, or your phone, you’d definitely enforce your rights to that property! Don’t let people get away with IP infringement. Find a professional to help you send a cease and desist, and protect what is yours.

    • About the Author: Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Twitter @mycorporation.

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