Ensuring your intellectual property is safeguarded against theft is one of the first steps every entrepreneur should
take. From processes to ideas to inventions, intellectual property is often
more valuable than physical assets.
Types of intellectual property
There are four legally defined categories of intellectual property:
patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Each category offers
entrepreneurs special protections and violators on state and federal levels
are subject to prosecution.
-- Copyrights protect your ideas and how you express them. Books, songs
and movies are common examples covered by copyright protection.
-- Trade secrets cover the information giving you a commercial advantage
the general public doesn't possess. A good example is Coca-Cola:
trade secrets protect everything from Coca-Cola's formulas to
customer lists to manufacturing processes.
-- Trademarks protect the visual aspects of your business that distinguish
you from competitors, including logos, names and general visual
-- Patents cover inventions that are useful to the public and prevent
anyone else from making, using or selling these devices or processes.
Business method patents protect a method of doing business, like
Amazon.com's "one-click" ordering. Receiving a patent can take several
years, so it's important to apply as soon as possible.
Ensuring your legal bases are covered through copyrights, patents and
trademarks is a solid start to protecting your intellectual property. But
catching and prosecuting offenders is difficult and expensive, and often times
by then the damage has been done -- your critical information is now in the
public domain. Consider these steps to further protect your company's ideas,
processes and inside secrets for success:
-- Prioritize your intellectual property. What company assets would sting
the most if stolen and which are most at risk?
-- Tag it. If it's yours, put your name on it. Otherwise you'll have a
difficult time proving the information was protected.
-- Lock it. Lock up servers and storage, and control the keys.
-- Educate employees. Humans are often the weakest link in the
intellectual property protection chain. Make sure your team is aware of
what's at stake and how to protect it.
-- Think like a competitor. If you were a competitor and wanted to steal
secrets from your company, how would you do it? Use your own insights
as an entrepreneur to further identify what intellectual property needs
protection as you refine your plan for doing so.