With intellectual property, there’s no such thing as being too big or too small. Because intellectual property includes creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, and symbols, names and images used in commerce, practically any business, from one-person entities to global conglomerates, benefits from owning and protecting its IP.
- Large or small, you want to protect your IP because it often represents the bread and butter of the products and services you offer.
- Large or small, someone can argue you are infringing upon their IP rights, requiring you to defend against their claim. You need to be prepared.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, all businesses can benefit by applying to protect their patents, trademarks or designs. Those that register at least one IP right are 21 percent more likely to experience growth and succeed versus those that do not.
“IP law is complicated, but that shouldn’t stop individuals and organizations from protecting their hard work,” explains Eric Ludwig, whose California-based law firm, Ludwig APC, specializes in intellectual property, data privacy matters, and business litigation around the globe. “Having an expert on your team who understands business, technology, cybersecurity, and IP laws can help you protect your interests so that should someone steal your ideas or claim you’ve infringed upon theirs, you’re in a position to assert your IP rights and defend your valuable assets.”
The first step for companies, regardless of their size, is to inventory their intangible assets. Here are some examples:
- Company name(s)
- Product names
- Logos and symbols
- Slogans and taglines
- Brand colors and typography
- Proprietary software your company has created
- Graphic arts your company has created
- Company databases
- Video and audio recordings
- Books and blog articles
- Inventions of products, machines, devices
- Inventions of new business processes and systems
- Confidential formulas
- Secret methods, techniques, and processes
Once a company identifies the IP under its purview, it can register with the proper authority to claim and protect rights:
Trademarks can be registered at the federal or state level, depending on your needs. A good place to start is with a search at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
While U.S. copyright laws do not require you to register, doing so provides additional protection and leverage should someone ever infringe on your work. Visit the US Copyright Office for more information.
Patent applications must be filed in the US (for US patents) via the USPTO and internationally through the patent office of the applicable country or region. Patent filings, especially those of an international nature, are often complex and expensive. This is one particular area where individuals and companies typically work with an expert in IP law, such as Ludwig APC.
Trade secrets cannot be registered. Typically, they are protected through company policies designed to restrict who can access the trade secret information and spelling out legal recourse if a breach occurs. Companies often use employee agreements and non-disclosure agreements to further protect trade secrets.
“Companies invest in IP and its protection to discourage copycats, exploit a competitive advantage, and create new revenue streams based on their ideas,” says Ludwig. “Whenever a company or individual fails to do that, the costly prospect of fighting to assert your IP rights or having to defend against claims of infringement can derail your success, slow business growth, and jeopardize your company’s long-term viability.”
Due Diligence Pays Off
To illustrate the important of IP protection, even for small companies, here’s a case study of one Ludwig APC client’s experience where their due diligence paid off:
A few years ago, Ludwig APC was engaged by a small software startup company. The founders were at odds over creation and ownership of the company’s IP, including patent rights, trademarks, and software code protected by copyright. One founder took matters into his own hands and tried to wrest control of the entire business, including all pending patent applications. Fortunately, the business was very forward-thinking and pragmatic. Issues of inventorship and ownership were well-documented and the patent prosecution file was very thorough. As a result, we were able to assert IP rights on behalf of the company and seek court intervention to resolve the dispute. If the client had not been so diligent and proactive, this story would have had a much different ending.