Intellectual Property (IP) is a blanket term that covers a range of different legal areas. Essentially, IP is unique to you or your company as it was created by you. Your IP is intangible in many cases – your brand identity, ethos, the colors you use, the slogan, and logo. It also refers to the products you sell or the service you provide, but specifically the part that makes it distinctive to your company.
By NINA SHARPE
For example, you may offer a window-washing service. There’s nothing particularly unique in that as a business idea. However, your company name and branding are your Intellectual Property. Additionally, if you have created a specific tool that you use, that will fall under your IP and should be protected by a patent.
In many ways, the Intellectual Property of a business is what gives you a unique selling point and sets it apart from the competition. This is why it’s so important to safeguard it against a competitor who may steal or copy it.
Protect Rather Than Defend
Many small or medium-sized businesses don’t take steps to protect their IP legally. It can be quite pricey to file a patent or a trademark, and legal advice is required to ensure all documentation is filed correctly. However, going through the process to protect your Intellectual Property is a lot less stressful – and often less expensive – than having to defend it if it gets stolen or copied.
If you haven’t gone through the process of adequately protecting and registering your IP, the burden of proof will lie with you. It will be your job and that of your lawyer to prove that someone else didn’t come up with the idea first and has copied your work. It’s much simpler to show the courts your legally documented proof of ownership and move on from there.
Pitfalls To Watch Out For
One of the most common problems businesses face is not updating their IP documentation when company changes occur. It’s essential to stay on top of this and ensure that nothing important falls through the cracks.
Protection From Employees – Any employee is likely to have access to, use, or at least witness the majority of most of a business’s Intellectual Property.
If you are operating with highly proprietary equipment or concepts, it’s essential that anyone who comes into contact with this information signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). You should ensure that the agreement extends to after they leave the company so that they can’t take your trade secrets with them.
This kind of protection also applies in less extreme cases. If your company utilizes custom-built software to run sales or manage projects, it’s a good idea to have a clause in employee contracts that prohibits them from taking that concept to their next job.
Staying Covered As Your Grow Nationally Or Internationally – Something that happens time and again is that a company will legally cover their IP once and then not update it when they expand.
Laws about IP can differ from state to state and country to country. If you start to operate in a new area governed by different regulations, you will need to make sure you are covered in that region too.
On a related note, you may want to make sure that you are not infringing on someone else’s copyrights or trademarks when you expand into new territories. Your concept, service, or product may have been unique in the region you started in. However, that may not be the case in your new area of operation.
Registering Even The Small Changes – If you have a copyright, patent, or trademark on certain elements of your Intellectual Property, it’s important to know exactly what is covered by that.
For example, if you have a company-specific workflow system and you create a new add-on, that may need to be actively named and included in your legal documents before it’s covered.
The same applies to a trademark or copyright for your company name, logo, and slogan. If you update those in a brand makeover, your legal standing won’t include the new versions unless you file the paperwork.
The Different Types of Intellectual Property
There are many different types of Intellectual Property. The way they’re covered legally varies depending on what form they take:
Copyright – This is usually used in artistic fields, such as literature, poetry, scripts, paintings, and music. Legal copyright is issued for the piece of work to ensure that anyone who wants to use it has to ask for permission and usually will pay rights to the creator.
Patent – In the same way, copyright protects artistic works, a patent protects an invention. Anything from a new, sophisticated microchip for computers to a concept for a toilet roll holder can be awarded a patent.
Trademark – Anything related to your brand identity can be trademarked by the business or individual. This can (and should) include your company name and the logo.
You may want to look at covering the slogan if it’s a phrase that’s unique to what you do and isn’t used in common vernacular.
Confidential Information – This includes a broad spectrum of areas that you may want to keep a secret. It can be a new business plan, service, brand identity, product, or even your marketing strategy.
Some of these elements you may want to keep under wraps until you are ready to release them to market so that a competitor can’t steal them. Others may be documents or data that you never want to release to the public. All of these elements can be protected by an NDA signed by anyone who is party to the information.
Your company’s IP is like your fingerprint. It’s not something you want anyone else to have, and it should always remain unique to your business. No matter how big or small your organization, understanding the importance of and protecting your Intellectual Property should always be a priority.