If you’re in business, you have intellectual property (“IP”) to protect, whether you realize it or not. Even if you’re a service company or you don’t sell anything proprietary, you have a brand, a logo, printed material and perhaps even a business method that others could copy and steal if you don’t take steps to guard them. Your IP is a key to your business success—so how do you keep it safe?
What Counts as Intellectual Property?
The Legal Information Institute defines intellectual property as “any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others.” In broadest terms, this can include any invention or artistic creation (e.g., music, poetry, art), but from a business perspective, IP encompasses designs, logos, software or other intangible property that helps you do business, or do it differently than others. Anything that can be copyrighted, trademarked, patented or identified as a trade secret counts as IP that you should protect.
Ways to Protect your Business’s IP
• Apply for patents, copyrights and trademarks as early as possible.
• Educate your employees on IP and how to guard company secrets. Share trade secrets with employees only on a need-to-know basis, but make sure all relevant employees know how to protect proprietary information. Create well-crafted NDAs and make sure your employees sign them.
• Label all your intellectual property. If it’s copyrighted, include copyright information; if it’s trademarked, include the TM symbol. Put it on every piece of printed matter and every computer screen. As CSO points out, labeling your IP is a key to proving your rights in court if someone uses it in an unauthorized manner.
• Look at international patents if necessary. U.S. patents won’t protect your property if you use your IP overseas.
Providing adequate protection for your company’s IP can be complicated. Given the choice, it is best not to attempt to do it without competent professional business or IP counsel. But whatever you do, protect it now, rather than run the risk of piracy once it becomes well-known, recognized and intrinsically valuable.