How Intellectual Property can Grow and Protect Your Business
During this COSE webinar, attendees discovered the types of intellectual property and what it takes to obtain protection, as well as strategies for using IP to grow their businesses. Read on for more details and scroll to the bottom to view the full presentation.
During a recent COSE WebEd Webinar, Mark Guinto, intellectual property attorney at the McDonald Hopkins law firm in Cleveland, gave an overview on intellectual property and how small businesses can leverage IP for success during a presentation titled “How to Use Intellectual Property to Grow and Protect Your Business.”
Guinto explained how entrepreneurs can strategically protect ideas, brands and assets when it comes to IP, with the ultimate goals of positioning themselves for future success, increasing market share and growing their businesses.
Types of IP
You’ve seen Shark Tank, but what do we really mean when discussing intellectual property? There are four different categories to consider when talking about IP.
Patents protect the overall idea of your invention. For something to be patented, it’s required to be new and useful as deemed so by the United States Patent and Trademark Office upon filing. Bars to patentability might include not filing in time or not being able to prove that it’s novel. Benefits include preventing other companies from using your invention, keeping competitors out of the market, being able to license your invention to other companies, and it also helps you build your patent portfolio.
Trademarks are your brand identifiers or source identifiers, such as the Nike Swoosh symbol. They are used to identify and distinguish the source of goods or services, and to try to build goodwill and brand awareness.
Copyrights are rights in the expression of your idea, such as songs, books, articles, software code and advertisements your company creates.
Trade secrets are any information, practices and know-how you keep within your own company and do not disclose to the world, like the Coca Cola recipe. Perhaps for you it’s how to operate a piece of equipment or coding practices you use.
In understanding the different types of intellectual property, it’s helpful to be aware of other relevant legal terminology, such as non-disclosure agreements, joint developments and licenses.
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are agreements between companies to share proprietary information with each other with restrictions on use of such information. This type of document will most likely define what you can do with the information you receive and what the other party can do with the information you give them.
Guinto advises that, before talking to a third party, you always look for an NDA. He says it’s important to coordinate with your sales team and reiterate to them to check for an NDA even if it’s a company you’ve been doing business with a long time. When in doubt about whether or not one exists or the details involved in it, be sure to contact legal assistance.
Joint developments are agreements you create when your company and another company work together on developing a product. The joint development identifies who owns the IP—whether it’s one or both of you.
Licenses can be granted from one party to another. You can give another company the right to use one of your inventions and they might pay you money in return. Licensing can be limited to a particular field, and royalties might be lump-sum or per unit.
There are three necessary action steps that a small business must take when it comes to moving forward with IP protections, according to Guinto.
Action Step No. 1: Monitor the potential for new protections to determine whether it makes sense to file for protection on your IP.
Action Step No. 2: Communicate with your engineers and sales team about your overall strategies and objectives for protecting your IP.
Action Step No. 3: Because IP has a lot of moving parts and since laws can vary by state and country, it is necessary to stay in constant communication with your legal counsel.
To File or Not to File?
One particular area where a small business owner might be unsure if it makes sense to seek protection is with software code that their company has written. It’s important to understand that even if you aren’t successful in obtaining a patent, the information regarding your invention is nevertheless put out there to the public. So if you disclose your secret invention in an effort to receive a patent, hopefully you will, in fact, be granted a patent. But in the event you do not receive that sought-after protection, you will still be broadcasting the details of your secret invention.
Code can and should be copyrighted with a patent office. But, when you’re dealing with code it changes so often that it is not usually cost effective to file for a copyright with each of these changes. Guinto advises his clients to launch major releases and get those covered with copyright, but to not seek it for each small edit.
Because it costs money to get a trademark, you have to figure out if there’s going to be money in filing for a trademark. He advises that it might be a better idea to get protection for a family of products instead of for each individual product. Check out the full broadcast of this webinar by scrolling down past the disclaimer below.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this seminar is general in nature, and may not apply to a specific factual or legal circumstance. An attorney and client relationship should not be implied simply by attending this seminar. Nothing in this seminar is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney. Therefore, if you require legal advice, please consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. McDonald Hopkins invites you to contact the firm and welcomes your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting the firm or attending this seminar does not create an attorney-client relationship. Past results afford no guarantee of future results and every case is different and must be judged on its own merits.