You’ve done your research and perfected your business plan. That wondrous document secured your funding and all your plans have come to fruition. You’re now a small business owner. As you hang out your shingle and proclaim yourself open for business, consider this sobering fact: there is another professional of sorts, right next door to you (literally or virtually, which means this person could be anywhere), who has hung out a shingle, as well. And this “professional” is an expert thief, looking for unwary business owners such as you to victimize.
How do you protect your business and your intellectual property?
One of the first things a small business owner can do to protect himself is register company logos, patents and/or documents with the correct authorities. A business logo or brand statement can be filed as a trademark, with an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. A trademark represents the goods your company supplies and keeps your business distinct from others. A patent can be filed within the same office, and permits the right to prevent other entities from developing and benefiting from your inventions.
A copyright is a bit of a different creature. At the point of creation and in concrete form, you already own the copyright to a specific document. A copyright application can be filed with the United States Copyright Office, a subsidiary of the Library of Congress. However, most business owners who would like to secure official copyrights to written materials, such as writers, often do not have the funds to apply for a copyright for all the works they have authored. As a result, many small business owners simply utilize a copyright statement on the document, indicated with a copyright symbol (©), along with the date of creation. Many times, the presence of this statement will suffice to warn predators away. If the copyright is encroached upon, the positive results of pursuing legal action may be greatly improved by filing the copyright form within the first five years of creation.
Another way to monitor usage of intellectual property, likely unorthodox, is to utilize Internet search engines to look for mentions of your company’s name and works. This is not a suggestion for ego boosting, but rather an inexpensive tool to help locate possible instances of the online piracy of works. Many file sharing sites will respond to written requests by owners or legal representatives to remove works from said site. Of course, the work may find its way onto other sites or even back onto the same site at a different time. However, the online piracy of intellectual property also a flip side: it can have the unintended effect of serving as free promotion for the author.
Every small business should have legal counsel at its disposal. The cost to retain attorneys varies greatly; however, the investment is a necessary and invaluable one for a small business owner. Also, if you employ other individuals or are required to share company ideas and knowledge with contractors, utilize a confidentiality statement in your business dealings. This document, signed before divulging information, serves to protect the business’ interests by binding the signer to confidentiality.
Last, one of the most important things a business owner can do to protect her business and intellectual property is to grant other businesses the same benefit. Someone who does not engage in theft shows that she has respect for the concept of ownership and that her business is professional, and to be respected in the same way.