Copyright and Trademark Basics for Minnesota Small Businesses

As a small business owner, it’s important to understand your intellectual property rights under state and federal law. Should another entity attempt to use or steal your intellectual property, such as copyrights, trademarks, patents, or trade secrets, you should know what actions you can take in response. Let’s take a brief look at two main types of intellectual property your small business may have and how to best protect them from infringement.

Protecting Your Copyrighted Materials

Copyright law protects all kinds of original works. The well-known examples are things like songs, movies, plays, and books. But the protection is broader than that and encompasses more than you might think. Courts have said time and again that the level of creativity required to bring a work within the scope of copyright protection is low. So it includes things like:

  • Pictures you take to put on your website or social media page — such as pictures a real estate agent might take of a house she’s listing;
  • The text on your website;
  • Your company’s written procedures;
  • Marketing materials, such as brochures or Powerpoint slides;
  • Computer software;
  • Maps;
  • Architecture.

The moment you create and publish these works, they are copyrighted — regardless of whether you register the copyrights. However, it’s a good idea to register your copyright with the Copyright Office because you can’t sue an infringer to enforce your copyrights unless and until they are registered. You can wait to file until after someone infringes, but in most cases, that will mean you give up the right to seek statutory damages or attorney fees from the infringer. If you believe that someone is infringing on your copyrighted work, you may wish to consult a knowledgeable IP attorney who can assess the details of the situation and advise you on the best course of action.

Registering a Trademark

If your business uses a specific word, phrase, symbol, or design—or some combination—that identifies your company and sets your products or services apart from competitors, you have a trademark. As with copyrights, registration isn’t required, but it is something you should seriously consider. Registering your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office has several benefits. It puts everyone in the country effectively on notice that you own the trademark, giving you the right to enforce it and protect your brand. Having a registered mark may provide additional remedies if you need to file suit against an infringer. And the process of registering a trademark might keep you out of trouble because it allows you to discover whether your phrase or symbol is already in use; that could save you the frustration and expense of getting sued for unknowingly using someone else’s protected mark. Once you’ve successfully filed for a trademark, you’ll need to monitor it to ensure that no other parties are using it without your permission — and take action if someone is. Should you discover that trademark infringement is occurring, work with your attorney to send a demand letter and explore other options for stopping the illegal and unauthorized use of your trademark.

Keeping Minnesota Small Businesses Safe From IP Infringement

If you suspect someone is infringing on your copyrights or trademarks, don’t sit on your rights. It’s a good idea to promptly contact an experienced IP lawyer to discuss the best strategy for keeping your property safe and secure.

To learn more about how the dedicated legal team at Rubric Legal can help to protect your small business against IP infringement, call our Minneapolis office today at (612) 465-0074.

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