Safeguarding Your Business Ideas and Innovations with IP
By Guest Post, published: 2023-10-18
Image Source: Pexels
As a business owner in any field, you must protect your valuable business ideas. Although intangible, these business ideas hold financial value and can be classified as intellectual property (IP). These include any original works that are a result of creative processes or intellectual interpretations, such as but not limited to:
- Brand colors;
This isn’t an all-inclusive list. If you are the creator of something, you have the right to the exclusive use of that creation. If you safeguard your intellectual property, no other individual or entity can use, manufacture, distribute, or promote those unique business ideas.
Anyone can benefit from safeguarding their IP, but entrepreneurs and small business owners can benefit greatly. Putting these protections in place can thwart any attempts to steal or misuse your property. If someone tries to infringe on your IP, it is important to have it protected somehow. Otherwise, your countless hours and resources spent on creating these assets will be lost — and this is often financially and morally devastating.
Particularly in the time of easily shareable content, people are able to access tons of inspiration on their phones and computers at the click of a button. The surmounting pressure to gain followers and engagement on social media is sometimes enough for others to effectively steal intellectual property and try to pass it off as their own unique business ideas. Even before social platforms, this type of property theft has negatively impacted businesses, particularly the smaller players.
For example, indie designers are battling fast-fashion brands like SHEIN that are purportedly ripping off designs. Without crediting the inspiration, these brands appear to be taking an exact design and reproducing it in a very similar and, oftentimes, less ethical and creative way. The sad news is that creators that don’t have these designs protected feel powerless.
Popular alternative clothing brand, Dolls Kill, has also been under fire for plagiarizing designs. One instance involved a designer named Jamie Hollis that ran an Etsy shop and had just around 500 Instagram followers. After selling a custom design to Dolls Kill owner, Shoddy Lynn, Hollis saw some of her other designs being copied without consent.
Opening your own Etsy store as a small business has many perks. Etsy hosts your products and promotes them to searchers on its site, and also allows you to have a lot of freedom as a creator in terms of creating a shop name, promoting your brand, and selling your products. However, IP legality on the site can be tricky, and it’s recommended that users have their own familiarity with copyright laws.
In addition, Etsy’s Intellectual Property Policy states that sellers on Etsy are responsible for acquiring their own rights to any content listed on the platform. This type of protection typically requires becoming an LLC or taking other steps to protect your assets.
Of course, large brands can — and most likely already have — implemented IP protections. The difference is that they can afford legal teams and any financial hits IP infringement takes on the business. Secure the future of your small business by learning about and implementing IP protections as early on as possible.
As soon as you have a good business ideas, protect it through IP rights so that you don’t take a hit later down the road. The first step is to understand the different types of IP protection. The most common include trademarks, patents, copyrights, and trade secrets.
Trademarks protect brands, logos, and distinctive symbols that distinguish a business’s goods or services from competitors. Registering a trademark with the relevant authorities provides legal rights and prevents others from using similar marks, reducing the risk of brand confusion and dilution.
Patents grant exclusive rights to inventors for their inventions, giving them the authority to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented technology for a limited period. There are three main types of patents, including:
- Utility: involves any type of machine, process, tech, or object that is novel or improves upon existing utilities;
- Design: applies to any original designs such as architecture or product design;
- Plant: includes the discovery or asexual reproduction of a distinct variety of plant.
Patents encourage innovation by providing inventors with a monopoly over their creations, enabling them to recoup their investments and reap the rewards of their ingenuity.
Copyrights safeguard original works of authorship, such as literary, artistic, and musical creations. They grant creators exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and perform their works. Copyright protection arises automatically upon creation, but registration enhances legal protections and provides a stronger basis for enforcement.
Trade secrets encompass valuable and confidential business information that provides a competitive advantage. Examples include formulas, manufacturing processes, customer lists, and marketing strategies. Unlike patents and copyrights, trade secrets do not require registration; they rely on maintaining secrecy through proper internal controls and non-disclosure agreements.
Every IP protection process will look slightly different. However, there are some general guidelines to follow along the way to safeguarding your intangible business assets.
First, take stock of what counts as intellectual property for your business and particular situation. Determine what aspects of your business are eligible for protection. Research the eligibility requirements for trademarks, patents, copyrights, and trade secrets. It’s also imperative to search for existing trademarks and protections for similar concepts to which you’re trying to gain the rights.
Conduct a prior art search to assess the novelty of your invention. If necessary, you can work with an intellectual property attorney or specialist to streamline the process. Whatever the case, your asset must be unique in some way. Once you understand the benefits of each IP protection solution, you can determine the right move.
As soon as you determine that your IP is unique and novel, take steps to register it. If you have distinctive brand names, logos, or symbols, consider registering them as trademarks. File a trademark application with the relevant trademark office in your jurisdiction.
If you have invented a unique product, process, or technology, consider seeking patent protection. File a patent application with the appropriate patent office, providing a detailed description and claims.
Copyright protection arises automatically upon the creation of original works, such as literature, music, artwork, and software. However, formal registration provides additional legal benefits. Visit the copyright office’s website in your jurisdiction to understand and begin the registration process.
If you have trade secrets, which may include formulas, manufacturing processes, customer lists, and marketing strategies, implement internal controls and confidentiality measures to protect them. There are no official trade secret protections, but you can take steps to protect them internally.
Establish protocols to limit access to IP to authorized personnel. Use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with employees, partners, and contractors who may come into contact with sensitive information. Regularly update and reinforce security measures to maintain secrecy.
Enforce Your IP Protection for Business Ideas
Once you have obtained IP protection, it is crucial to actively monitor and enforce your rights. Be aware of when IP laws do and do not apply. Include ownership policies in about sections, bios, product descriptions, and anywhere else people can see your IP. Consider including a copyright notice (©) on your works to indicate your ownership and deter infringement.
Regularly search the market for potential infringements. Use online tools, professional services, and legal counsel to help identify and address any instances of infringement or unauthorized use. Swiftly take legal action, when necessary, to protect your IP and seek appropriate mitigation.