5 Ways to Safeguard Your IP

The intellectual property your business creates is extremely valuable. Here are five steps you can take to protect it today that can help you avoid a costly defense in the future.

The intellectual property you and your business create is a vital asset. But too many small business owners aren’t doing as much as they can to protect their IP simply because they view such defense as an unnecessary expense. Others fail to protect it because they aren’t sure about how profitable it might be to protect these ideas. While it’s true that creating and maintaining a durable IP portfolio can be costly, the failure to do so can be even more expensive when others try to copy or steal your IP.

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    The old adage of “the best defense is a strong offense” certainly applies to the world of IP, but it’s also important to understand IP can be employed both offensively and defensively. Investing a little bit now to build up your IP defense will pay off over time if you’re ever in a position where you need to defend it. This investment also has the added benefit of making your IP more valuable.

    So, how do you go about initiating the protection of your IP assets? Here are five examples to think about.

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    • Get educated. Educate yourself on the basics of copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and patents.
    • Know what to protect. Identify all of your registered and unregistered copyrights and trademarks, as well as any possible trade secrets.
    • Don’t delay. Identify your patentable technology including products as well as business processes. With today's first-to-file system, the sooner you file a patent application, the better—as such an application holds your place in line.
    • Get it in writing. Ensure that any written contract or agreement (including employment and manufacturing agreements) thoroughly and explicitly protects (and defines ownership of) your intellectual property.
    • Talk to a professional. Contact an attorney to learn more about what means of protection might be available to your brand, product, know-how, original work and more.

    Properly protecting IP is a valuable process. If you take the steps to safeguard your IP today, you could avoid a costly defense later.

    Kevin Soucek is an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who focuses his practice on intellectual property. He can be reached at ksoucek@walterhav.com or at 216-619-7885.

    James Pingor is an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who focuses his practice on intellectual property. He can be reached at jpingor@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2984.
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    Next up: 6 Ways to Use Social Media to Attract Millennials to Your Business
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    Next up: 7 Concealed Carry Changes that Might Impact Your Business
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  • 7 Concealed Carry Changes that Might Impact Your Business

    Stay up to date on recent concealed carry changes that could impact how you or your employees do business.

    Recently, changes were made to Ohio’s Concealed Carry Law. Here are the seven changes and improvements that were made and how they might impact your place of business, the way you conduct your business, your employees, or even how you go on about your day.

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    1. Prohibit a business entity, property owner, public or private employer from banning a person who has been issued a valid concealed handgun license (CHL) from transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition when the items are locked in a person's privately-owned motor vehicle on company property. This does not prevent any owner from NOT allowing any firearm inside their building facilities. Some ownership groups are allowing “designated” people to carry concealed weapons in their buildings, but in these instances those personnel are required to have a CHL permit, have annual training and officially be provided permission in writing by the company management and/or ownership.

    2. Allow CHL holders to keep their handgun locked in a motor vehicle on school premises. This allows adults to pick up, drop off or respond to sick kids without having to go home to drop their firearm off to stay within the legal limits of the law. The firearm MUST stay in the vehicle and be locked and secured if the adult exits the vehicle.

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    3. Allow colleges and government bodies to decide for themselves if concealed carry should be allowed. Several colleges recently decided to allow CHL permit holders to carry firearms, but are also mandating the weapons be concealed always.

    4. Allow CHL holders to carry on private aircraft and also in the non-secure areas of all airports. This area would include from parking to the security passage areas inside the airports.

    5. Allow CHL holders to carry on the property and inside day-care centers (unless the day care posts a "no-guns" sign). This allows adults to pick up, drop off or respond to sick kids without having to go home to drop their firearm off to stay within the legal limits of the law. If the day care center posts no firearms allowed inside the building then the firearm MUST stay in the vehicle locked and secured if the adult exits the vehicle.

    6. Allow active military members who have the same or greater training than that required to obtain a CHL to carry a concealed firearm as a license-holder to carry without a license.

    7. Allows the sale of firearms to active duty military members without regard to their age. Current law prohibits those under 21 from purchasing a handgun.

    Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, is president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services Inc. He is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at info@sacsconsulting.com.

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    Next up: 9 Things You Should Include in an Offer Letter to a Potential Employee
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  • 9 Things You Should Include in an Offer Letter to a Potential Employee

    In track and field, how well the runner launches her body off the starting block determines her starting position in the race, and largely contributes to her overall success. Think of offer letters the same way. A solid offer letter can mark the beginning of a successful start to an employment relationship, and put a new employee in a good position to positively contribute to the growth and success of your company.

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    A successful offer letter should include these nine elements.

    1. Excitement

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    You’ve gone through the trouble of advertising a position, looking over resumes and interviewing potential candidates, so you should be excited that you can now make an offer. Convey your excitement to the candidate so that he or she feels excited about working with you, and you can close the deal!

    2. Basic job info

    Include the title of the position, as well as reporting structure. The offer letter should also include a description of responsibilities and expectations. In this section, you should also include a disclaimer that the employer has the right to change the position, and modify or assign additional responsibilities.

    3. Compensation and benefits

    The job’s salary, payment period, and the policy on raises should be included. Thoroughly describe any bonus or commission plan. Where applicable, information about fringe benefits such as health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, 401(k) savings plans, profit sharing, and expense reimbursements should also be included. Don’t forget to include the company’s vacation and/or PTO policy, and reserve the right to amend or rescind compensation agreements and benefit plans and programs, including employee contribution levels.

    4. “At will”/ exempt status

    Most employment relationships are “at will”, meaning that either party can terminate the employment for any reason or no reason (so long as it does not violate discrimination or other laws or public policies). If this is the case, make sure it is clearly addressed in the offer letter by stating something like, “the employer is free to discharge individuals for any reason or no reason at all, without further obligation or liability.” Also, be sure to state whether the position is exempt. If the position is nonexempt, include your overtime policy.

    5. Conditions for the offer

    Describe any conditions that you want the employee to satisfy before or after being hired. Examples of such conditions include: reference checks, background checks, drug tests, and required pre-hire documentation.

    6. Restrictive Covenants

    While an offer letter will generally not include non-compete or non-solicitation clauses, it can condition employment upon the signing of these documents at commencement of employment. The best practice is to seek the help of a business lawyer when crafting non-compete or non-solicitation agreements. Moreover, you may want to include language in the offer letter stating that signing the document affirmatively acknowledges that the employee is not currently subject to any restrictive covenants from previous employers.

    7. Confidentiality

    If your company has a confidentiality policy (it should), offer letters should include confidentiality and/or non-disclosure clauses in order to protect important information that’s vital to the success of your business, such as salary information or client lists.

    8. Expiration Date

    The offer should instruct the candidate to obtain independent legal advice before accepting and provide enough time for the person to do so. This will make the court more likely to uphold clauses in favor of your company if a problem should arise in the future. While it is still important to give the candidate time to properly review your offer, it’s also imperative to include a specific time in which your offer to that candidate expires. Making an expiration date around 48 hours after extending an offer also helps eliminate the chance of the candidate receiving competing offers, having time to compare offers, and then possibly presenting you with a counter-offer.

    9. Spell Out the Next Steps

    Finally, explicitly call out the next steps for the candidate. These may include signing the offer letter and returning it to a specific person at the company. Also include a start date and the timing of any contingencies such as reference checks. It’s important to include these steps so that the employment relationship begins on strong footing, launching your new employee and your business as a whole towards success and prosperity.

    For more information on this topic, contact Alex Gertsburg at 440-571-7775 or ag@gertsburglaw.com. Get more legal tips for your business on The Gertsburg Law Firm blog, with new articles every week. 

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    Next up: 9 Ways to Improve Your Staff’s Mood—And Your Business’ Bottom Line: Presented by viperks
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  • 9 Ways to Improve Your Staff’s Mood—And Your Business’ Bottom Line: Presented by viperks

    Allowing your employees to show off their creative side and giving them access to discount programs are two ways to improve morale in the office. Here are seven more from the motivation experts at viperks.

    Happy employees are productive employees. But a recent study by Gallup has found that as many as 70% of American workers are unengaged in the office—and therefore not as happy or productive as they otherwise could be.

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    Clearly, there’s a lot of ground to make up here. But how to do it? The motivation experts at viperks, a cloud-based provider of employee discount and appreciation services, has a few ideas about the employment perks you can provide that will help engage and motivate your workforce. 

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    1. Customized workspaces

    Allow your employees to decorate their workspaces with little custom touches that show off their unique personalities. It’s been shown that adding this perk leads to 17% more productivity by employees.

    2. Employee-friendly maternity leave

    Ensure you’re providing ample time for maternity (and paternity) leave. This will help your employees feel more cared for at work.

    3. Provide concierge services

    Work out partnerships that can provide added services to your employees, such as a maid service for your employees’ homes, elder care facilities for aging family members, or services that assist with everyday errands.

    4. Vacation time

    Provide a once-in-a-lifetime vacation experience for your top performers or perhaps raffle off a dream vacation.

    5. Feed ‘em

    Maybe the way to your employees’ hearts is through their stomachs? Keep a supply of free food and drink in the office for your staff.

    6. Employee discount programs

    Programs exist that will allow your employees to purchase everyday brand name items at a discount.

    RELATED: Learn how COSE members can take advantage of such discount programs

    7. Student loan repayment plan

    Student loan repayment might be one of the biggest expenses your employees are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. Consider setting up a repayment program to assist with this expense.

    8. Go casual

    Make everyday Casual Friday by instituting a relaxed dress code.

    9. Time to relax

    Create a designated space in your office for quiet reflection and relaxation that will help your employees recharge their batteries.

    Learn more about how viperks can help COSE member businesses motivate and engage their employees.

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    Next up: A 5 Step Plan to Implementing Safety Inspections
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  • A 5 Step Plan to Implementing Safety Inspections

    Ensuring a safe workplace should be the goal of every business. Performing regular inspections of both the workplace environment and the business’ equipment is crucial in creating a workplace that is a safe place for employees. So how do you go about performing a worksite analysis that will address all of the potential danger areas of which you should be aware? Here’s a five-point plan courtesy of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration that will get you started in the right direction:

    Ensuring a safe workplace should be the goal of every business. Performing regular inspections of both the workplace environment and the business’ equipment is crucial in creating a workplace that is a safe place for employees.

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    So how do you go about performing a worksite analysis that will address all of the potential danger areas of which you should be aware? Here’s a five-point plan courtesy of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration that will get you started in the right direction:

    1. Request consultation

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    It’s never a bad idea to get input from the experts. OSHA offers a Consultation Program that provides comprehensive coverage of all of the dangers that might lurk at your business. Small business owners might also consider hiring an expert private consultant, too.

    2. Employee reviews

    From time to time, review with each employee their jobs. Break their duties down step by step to see what invisible hazards might exist in their normal day to day.

    3. Self-inspections

    In addition to consulting with outside sources, take time to self-inspect. Some things to keep in mind during these self-inspections include:

    • Ensuring fire safety standards are being met (i.e., fire alarm system is tested annually, there are enough fire extinguishers and they are readily available, etc.)
    • Are employees wearing safety equipment, such as goggles or shields, where appropriate?
    • Aisles and walkways are clear of obstructions
    • Floor openings are protected on all sides by covers, guard rails, etc.
    • Worn equipment and tools are being replaced as needed

    4. Analyze

    Look through the past several years’ worth of injury reports. Do you see a pattern emerging? That might indicate red flags that need to be addressed.

    5. Self-policing

    It’s one thing to set up formal workplace safety procedures. It’s another to follow through and ensure they are being carried out effectively. Small businesses must ensure all employees are aware of the business’ workplace safety policy and the ramifications of not adhering to it. It’s also important that your staff feels comfortable telling management when they see something that violates the company’s safety protocol.

    Of course, the tips listed above just represent a starting point when it comes to workplace safety. For a more detailed look at what you can do to make sure your business is as safe as possible, check out OSHA’s Small Business Handbook, located here

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