Protecting Your Company’s Intellectual Property

Every business has vital information that should be protected from the hands of competition

lockcomputersecureGlynis Albright was shocked when her printer called to tell her someone was trying to make unauthorized copies of her bakery’s friendly bear logo.

“I discovered that there are a lot of copycats out there,” says Albright, owner of Just Sweet Enough Inc., a low-sugar dessert company in Castle Rock, Colorado. Her printer refused the request, but it underscored to Albright the importance of protecting her company’s intellectual property.

Every business has vital information that should be protected from the hands of competition, whether it’s a special recipe, unique piece of software or a distinctive slogan. “You have to look for the different aspects of your product or service that are proprietary,” says Michell L. Davis, a partner with Register Lett L.L.P, an intellectual property and entertainment law firm in Atlanta. After you identify what sets your company apart, find out which area of intellectual property law is going to provide you with the best protection. There are four major areas: trademarks, patents, copyrights, and trade secrets.

Trademarks

“A trademark is a way to brand your consumer product,” Davis says. “It could be a word, picture, or slogan.” Albright’s company logo is a registered trademark, as well as the names of some of her food creations. “If another company has products that are called something similar, they could try to sue you to stop making your product if you don’t have a registered trademark,” Albright says.

Trademarks are registered at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Costs can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the number of your requests and the objections you could face. Once you register your trademark, however, it helps protect your product and makes it easier to go after others who violate your brand. “You could get an infringing defendant’s profits, damages, and attorney’s fees,” says Karen Henry, an associate at the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine L.L.P. in Los Angeles who specializes in intellectual property law.

Patents

“A patent is a way to protect an idea, Davis says. “So if you have an idea for an invention, a patent is a fairly involved process where you basically disclose how the invention works in exchange for exclusive rights to keep someone else from making, using or selling that particular invention.” A patent can be expensive to obtain, but it’s important if you share your ideas with others for the purpose of seeking funding.

Copyright

“A copyright protects the tangible expression of an idea,” Davis says. An idea itself can’t be copyrighted, but the physical expression of one, like a written manuscript, song CD, or picture, can be protected. It costs about $45 to register a copyright with the United States Copyright Office.

Trade Secrets

If your business uses a secret formula or recipe, you have a trade secret to protect. While you wouldn’t register it with a government organization (that would make it public knowledge), you can implement business practices to make sure it stays a secret.

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  • http://www.T3Multisports.com Boris Robinson

    Thank you for the article on Intellectual Property. I have a triathlon coaching company and club called: T3Multisports; http://www.T3Multisports.com; I did register my logo with the USPTO and bought the domain name to support my business and website. There is now another gentleman in another state that started a company called: T3Multisport as you can see less the (s) in Multisport; he also created a logo similar to mine; see his site: http://www.t3multisport.com

    I approached him by phone to discuss this; his answer was that he was not competing with me in Texas and that his web designers didn’t look at my site. I don’t believe this just based on his name, logo and solgan: “where the finishline is just the beginning.” My slogan is: “Transitioning Athletes to the Next Level.” on my site I talk about what that means and he replicated the meaning in his slogan.

    What options do I have?

    Thanks,
    T3Multisports, LLC

  • Erika Ali

    I am trying to start a custom tshirt buisness snd i don’t want anyone to take my ideas. I have a name that i would like to place on the tag or shirt. Do i need to purchase a trademark?
    Thank you and i look forward to hearing from you.
    Erika Ali

  • http://www.dayinblackhistory.com Dele

    This article omits the idea of patent pending as a less extensive and significantly cheaper option for protecting ideas. With a description of an idea and ~$100 for the filing fee, an inventor can gain patent pending protection on before talking to investors.

  • http://www.MalibuHorses.Blogspot.com Gayle

    I filed my trademark soon after forming my LLC. you can use a service like legalzoom or http://www.MyLLC.com to help you file a trademark

  • http://www.cafepress.com/iberikus/6390327 namaste girl

    Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.

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