Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Madness - Proctecting Your Intellectual Property

Patents, Copyrights & Trademarks For DummiesWondering if you have any intellectual property?  It's very likely that you do. Intellectual property includes things like trademarks, patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and even domain names. These are intangibles - things that can't be touched or physically measured.  Ideas, inventions, designs, business names, etc. need to be protected unless you just want to give your business away.

At a recent Women's Business Network meeting, Utah patent attorney Rand Bateman explained just how important it is to understand how to protect your intellectual property.  If you come up with an awesome invention and decide to start selling it before filing for a patent, you only have a year to file for that patent or you will miss your opportunity.  Patents can be very expensive, so you will want to decide whether it's worth the trouble or not.  If you don't intend to make money from your invention (by selling it yourself or licensing it to others), you may want to skip the patent process if it doesn't fit in your budget.

The rise of the Internet has made it easier for people to copy ideas and steal designs. Fortunately, the Internet also makes it easier to research ideas, find resources, and file applications. I've seen recent blog posts from people who have discovered that someone else is using their blog name or business name.  That can lead to some big problems! Make sure you register your business and keep good documentation so you can prove that you have legal rights to your name. 

One of the most intriguing things Bateman told us was that for small businesses, your biggest threat isn't your competitors....it's your employees.  Employees can take more than just money from your company.  They can steal your clients, copy your designs, and even share your paperwork with competitors. I work for a nonprofit residential treatment center that has been in business for over 27 years.  In that time, they have developed their treatment philosophy, policies, procedures, employee training program, and handbooks for students, parents, and staff.  Having been involved in developing some of those materials, I know how much work went into it and how devastating it would be for someone to share any of this with competitors. If other treatment facilities were able to quickly and easily able to adopt these documents as their own, it wouldn't accurately reflect how their facility compared to ours and they would be living off of our hard work.

Photo from MyCokeRewards
Bateman was kind enough to share some resources with us.  He has a downloadable set of IP Worksheets on his website. Even if you think your Etsy business is too small to worry about these kinds of things, take a look at the worksheets and keep yourself informed. Even my beloved Diet Coke has trademarked the look of their name, the shape of their bottle, and even the "dynamic ribbon device" (wavy line under the name).  And yes, that is me pictured next to the lovely bottle of Diet Coke.... ;-)

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