Every business owner, whether running a small tech startup or a mainstream publishing company, knows that business management is no small task. Even having successfully navigated the funding and registering phases, a myriad of other issues need to be dealt with, i.e. insurance, payroll, marketing, and a growth plan.
Something all too easy to overlook among other pressing tasks is intellectual property (IP) protection. Here’s what IP law is, how it applies to your business, and why it’s a crucial aspect of maintaining a successful enterprise.
TYPES OF IP LAW
You may have come across the term intellectual property, or IP for short, before. Intellectual property is a way of enforcing ownership of intangible things like ideas and inventions.
IP law has several subsets: patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and copyrights. Many people use these interchangeably, and thus incorrectly.
Patents are formal protections of inventions, and grant temporary monopolies in the market for new inventions. If you’re looking to patent your idea, you must first get from the idea stage to the invention stage, a key process for any entrepreneur looking to develop a product or service.
Trademarks have become increasingly significant with the rise of e-commerce. They protect parts of a business or brand, like logos, audio branding, or slogans. Trademarks used to be more of a necessity only when interstate commerce was occurring, but no business wants to restrict their online sales to just one state or even one country.
Trade secrets are a bit more complicated, covering areas like market strategies, secret recipes, consumer and supplier lists, and the like.
Copyrights deal with art, including music, writing, paintings, etc. This means that others cannot reproduce, sell, perform, or profit off your original creative work without permission, otherwise they would be engaging in copyright infringement. Copyrights, while protected under common law, should still be officially registered to enable legal action.
HOW DOES IP PROTECTION HELP
You wouldn’t want anyone coming into your house and stealing your new pair of shoes. That’s why you have doors, locks, and if need be, the police to contact.
IP protection is like a security system for your intellectual property. In a way, it’s even more crucial, because it serves as proof that the property was yours to begin with.
In the startup and entrepreneurial world, things move pretty fast. This kind of business is highly competitive, and unprotected inventions, brands, trade secrets, and creative work may be taken advantage of both purposefully and accidentally.
By reaching out to experts early, getting educated, and taking the necessary steps to protect your business and your ideas, you can have intellectual property law on your side when push comes to shove. Figure out how to trademark your brand, copyright your work, and how to file a patent sooner rather than later; IP protection is one of the first things on any business’ to-do list.
IMPACTS ON YOUR BUSINESS AND THE MARKET
Effective utilization of IP law doesn’t just help your company; it makes the market healthier as a whole.
To some, the temporary monopoly system may seem counterintuitive, but to anyone who has tried turning an idea into a successful business, it makes a lot of sense. Realizing any idea or invention takes time and money, and intellectual property protection can provide that much-needed grace period during funding and development.
There are plenty of examples of larger companies scanning the market for promising new inventions not covered by the necessary IP protections and taking those ideas for themselves.
Thus, IP law incentivizes startups and entrepreneurs to go into business with less fear of being taken advantage of.
J.D. Houvener, a Philadelphia patent attorney, puts it this way in his book, Bold Ideas:
“When an inventor comes up with an idea that they believe to be truly commercially valuable, it is imperative that they seek counsel as soon as possible, without disclosing it to any third parties. I answer this question so directly because it is THAT important.”
Houvener stresses urgency because of the fast-paced timelines that inventors must adhere to and might be limited by when their IP protection runs out. Thus, IP protection must be comprehensive and speedy simultaneously.
Since IP law covers so many different parts of the entrepreneurial process, it comes into play no matter if you’re still acquiring seed funding or are developing your third new line of services.
It’s crucial to get educated on the basics of intellectual property, and complex as they may be, in order to know what you’re paying for when you do consult an IP law firm, and what you should expect from the process.
We hope you enjoyed this article on intellectual property basics for your business.
Katherine (Tori) Lutz is a freelance writer, editor & social media strategist