For many start-ups and existing small businesses, funding and resources are tight, so they necessarily take great care when deciding where to invest their money. However, one place that many businesses unfortunately overlook is planning for and protecting their intellectual property (IP).
The value of IP in the US has been estimated as being around $10-$15 trillion. And when assessing the value of IP for your company, it may mean the difference between big-time success and going out of business. Because if others start using your IP, it can undercut your sales and profits – often enormously.
The most cost-effective way to protect against this is properly planning before infringement occurs. The fewer resources your company has, the more this is true. The cost of fighting against infringement or facing an infringement lawsuit is much higher than taking proactive steps to prevent possible problems.
Here are a few steps that business owners should take.
Take a close look at your ideas.
Many businesses do not realize that they have any intellectual property. Others seem to think that every single idea they come up with should be protected. The truth is usually somewhere in-between.
Start by conducting an internal review of your products and ideas. Come to a consensus on the value they have – both in a direct financial way and to the operation of your business. If a piece of IP seems particularly valuable to other companies, that may be worth protecting, too.
Educate yourself on IP law and what each type of protection does.
Do you know the difference between a trademark and a patent? Are you aware that copyright is automatic the moment you create a work? Do you know the advantages of copyright registration? Do you understand what it costs to gain each type of protection?
Attaining even a basic knowledge of how intellectual property works can go a long way toward informing how you want to treat yours.
Make your contracts clear.
All employment agreements, licenses, sales contracts, and technology transfer agreements should be written clearly, so your intellectual property is protected from all angles.
This is often particularly important with people you hire. They may believe they have rights to projects or assignments they work on that they do not.
Keep clear, up-to-date, accessible records.
Even with clear, iron-clad contracts and registration of important IP, you still need to be able to produce these things should the need ever arise. That means staying organized and practicing good record-keeping.
Find an IP attorney willing to work with you.
Hiring an attorney can seem like a daunting and expensive task. However, a knowledgeable IP attorney can save you from wasting both time and money on unnecessary IP protections, ensure you invest those hard-earned dollars where they will do the most good, and help prevent and prepare for any potential litigation.
Crystal Broughan and the Marks Gray intellectual property team have years of experience helping small businesses and start-ups find the most cost-effective ways to protect their company’s future. You can reach us at 904-807-2180.