Whether you’re a solopreneur, an entrepreneur, or managing someone else’s business, you probably use a lot of intellectual property in the process of creating your products and services.
Intellectual property is considered an intangible asset and can include things like recipe ingredients, articles, logos, and proprietary systems and processes. And because your business is built on these intangibles, intellectual property (IP) can be your most important asset.
IP can be protected
The last thing you want is for another business to get ahold of the information you’ve worked hard to create and have no recourse to recover damages. The good news is even though intellectual property isn’t a tangible asset, you can protect it with copyrights, trademarks, and patents.
The following tips are designed to help you protect your intellectual property from start to finish. These tips will make it easy for you to recover any damages if you’re ever faced with a situation where someone infringes on your intellectual property rights.
1. Use non-disclosure agreements
Running a business often involves sharing confidential information with people you’ve just met. For example, when you hire new employees or seek funding from someone, they will be exposed to confidential information simply by the nature of the relationship. The best way to ensure that people don’t share your information is to have them sign a non-disclosure agreement.
A non-disclosure agreement is a contract that obligates someone to refrain from disclosing your confidential information to third parties.
But don’t just draft your non-disclosure agreements to prevent someone from sharing your information. You’ll also want to include a non-use clause to prevent them from using the information for their own purposes.
Although non-disclosure agreements are a legally binding contract, they don’t automatically guarantee someone will honor their word. They do, however, set the tone of the relationship in the beginning and provide you with the legal proof you need if the contract is breached.
By having your employees, business partners, consultants, and anyone else you do business with sign a non-disclosure agreement before discussing sensitive information, you’re protecting yourself from potential future issues.
2. Create an intellectual property (IP) plan
Creating an IP plan will help you protect your intellectual property assets based on priority, and transform your intangible, unprotected assets into legally protected intellectual property.
The first priority for creating your IP plan is to identify which assets need to be protected. Because it takes time and money to do this, you’ll want to prioritize. Of course, if you have all the money in the world, you can protect everything. But if you’re on a budget, you’ll want to choose the most important assets to protect.
Next, you need to determine what type of protection each asset requires. For example, if you have an eBook, you’ll want to protect it with a copyright. If you have a proprietary process for creating your goods, you’ll want to protect it with a patent. And if you have a unique name you use to identify your product, it should be protected by trademark.
If you’re collaborating with a group, it’s also a good idea to document who owns your patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
Another aspect of your IP plan should include the terms that determine when employees and people you consult with need to sign a confidentiality agreement.
3. File all of your paperwork
It may seem like a tedious task, but you should be filing protection paperwork for your intellectual property. Even though creative works are automatically copyrighted the moment they are produced, filing the correct paperwork helps you establish the legal underpinning required to prove your creative rights to the work, should a dispute ever arise.
If someone is using your work without your permission and you can’t prove you’re the creator, you won’t be able to recover damages in court.
4. Protect IP based on more than just what you think is important
It’s wise to consult with your business partners and your team when you’re creating your IP plan and determining which intellectual property is a priority to protect. It’s always good to get a rounded perspective on what to protect because if you’ve hired a team to engineer machinery, you may not know the industry well enough to be able to identify the aspects that should be patented – but your team will.
Don’t wait, create your IP plan today
The best thing you can do for yourself, and your business, is to create a comprehensive IP plan to keep your ideas secure and within your control.
Intellectual property is the foundation of what makes your business unique. And because it holds the most value of all your business assets, it makes sense to protect it by filing the right paperwork from the start.
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