Small business owners in Minnesota often want to know what steps they should be taking to protect their intellectual property (IP) from unauthorized use. With so many aspects to running a business, business owners may fall behind on putting the necessary IP protections in place, leaving them vulnerable to infringement. Here are three simple strategies to help you keep your valuable intellectual property safer from potential infringement.
1. Identifying and Understanding Your Intellectual Property
First, you’ll want to figure out what intellectual property you may have. The most common forms for most businesses are trademarks and copyrights:
- As defined by the US Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is “any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.” It could be your company name or logo (or a combination of them) or names of products or services. It might even include the design and look of your products (that’s “trade dress” and a topic for another day).
- Copyright covers creative works. As the U.S. Copyright Office explains, it “is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression.” Don’t get too caught up in the word “creative,” though. Copyright doesn’t just apply to novels or paintings or other works of art. The Supreme Court has ruled that it applies to just about anything with a “spark” or a “modicum” of creativity. The pictures you take, the blog posts you write, computer code, instruction manuals, diagrams – all could be protected by copyright.
If you aren’t sure what IP your business may have, an attorney who practices intellectual property law can help you identify and confirm it. With that information, you can decide what steps to take to protect it.
2. Consider Registering Your IP
Neither copyrights nor trademarks have to be registered. But in both cases, registration offers benefits. In the case of copyright, for example, you cannot sue an infringer until your copyright is registered. You can register after the infringement begins, but in most cases that will limit the remedies available in court – you probably lose the right to statutory damages and to awards of attorneys’ fees. Federal trademark registration puts everyone in the country on notice that you are using that mark for your products or services; it creates presumptions that can make it easier for you to win a lawsuit against a potential infringer.
Registration does take time and cost money, though. An IP attorney can help you assess whether the cost is worth the potential benefits for your copyrights or trademarks.
3. Monitor Your IP on a Frequent Basis
Many small businesses assume that obtaining a copyright or trademark is sufficient to enjoy IP protection. However, you’ll need to keep an eye on potential infringement so you can take action as soon as a potential issue arises. Some cases of infringement are deliberate, but many cases – especially cases involving trademark infringement – happen because the infringer didn’t know they were crossing a line. The sooner you act when discovering the infringement, the easier it will be to work out a solution. Talk to your IP attorney about the various IP protection tools you can use to monitor your IP and stay ahead of any attempt by a third party to use your IP without your permission. By taking action as soon as an issue arises, you may be able to resolve the matter before it escalates into a costly litigation battle.
Call Rubric Legal LLC today at (612) 465-0074 to learn more about intellectual property protection strategies for small businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul.