Intellectual property (IP) is the core of competitive advantage. Protecting IP requires both taking advantage of legal protections and being alert for situations in which IP may be created or lost.
Here are five common mistakes to avoid:
1. Hiring contractors without "work for hire" and "assignment of rights" agreements.
Tip: Contractors retain rights in works they create. Hence, you can pay for services (such as software or web site development) and do not have full ownership of the work product.
2. Assuming information on the Internet is in the "public domain."
Tip: There is no such thing as "public domain" on the Internet. Before using someone's work, without permission, you need to determine whether it is copyright-free or your usage is within the "fair use doctrine." Proper attribution to the author is required to avoid plagiarism.
3. Disclosing important information to prospective customers, suppliers or investors without a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Tip: Without an NDA, ideas may be stolen. But note: investors routinely refuse to sign NDAs, because they don't want future options restricted.
4. Not registering trademarks for a distinctive name or tagline.
Tip: To prevent someone using your business name, or one that is "confusingly similar," take advantage of trademark registration.
5. Not filing copyright registrations.
Tip: Many people think that putting a copyright notice on their work protects their rights. They are only partly right. If you register the copyright before an infringement occurs, you will have a great deal more leverage in enforcing your rights.