Guest post from Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.
Your doors are open, your website is launched, and orders are flowing in. Your small business is up and running, and trust me, those first few months are going to be some of the busiest. It is likely that protecting your intellectual property isn’t going to be anywhere near the top of your to-do list. IP protection is, however, something you should be considering, as your intellectual property is essentially your brand; the very aspect of your business that conveys the goodwill and reputation of your company. Protecting your intellectual property with a trademark or a copyright is a very wise investment, but it is probably not one you’ll be willing to make if you have no idea what a trademark or copyright even protects. Luckily, both forms of intellectual property protection can be explained pretty easily.
A trademark protects the name, phrase, logo, or design that you use to distinguish your business from your competitors’. Trademarks effectively denote the source of a product or service, and are thus an integral part of a company’s brand.
Why do you need one?
A trademark is necessary because we live in a world where the success of one brand creates a series of copycat companies, and there are people out there who will try to profit from your business’s reputation by stealing its logo or name. As the owner of a trademark, you have the right to enforce that mark and protect your brand.
How do you get one?
You don’t really have to do anything to trademark your brand – you automatically gain rights to it just by using it in an open market. And if you mainly do business in a small, isolated area, you probably don’t need to register your mark. However, if you run an online business, you should consider registering your brand with the USPTO (or the Intellectual Property Office in the UK) as doing so makes it much easier to enforce your rights to that mark if someone steals it.
The United States and United Kingdom offer copyright protection for certain creative works. Literature, drama, music, art, movies, computer software/architecture, and sound recordings are a few of the main categories of intellectual property that can be protected with a copyright.
Why do you need one?
Again, we live in an imperfect world and there are plenty of people out there that are willing to rip you off in order to help themselves. If your business has a website, nearly everything that you created for that site, from the coding to the content, is copyrightable. Other artistic aspects of your business and its marketing, like its commercials or jingles, are also subject to copyright protection.
How do you get one?
Like a trademark, you have automatic copyright protection from the minute your work is created. So, once your site launches, you are granted copyright. However, if you’re in the US and want to bring someone to court over copyright violations, you have to register your work with the United States Copyright Office. It is a good idea, then, for web based businesses to register their site when they launch. That way they can immediately pursue, and stop, any copycats.
Now, trademark and copyright law can get pretty complicated, so it is a good idea to speak with an attorney or another professional when preparing to register your own mark or copyright. And while that extra work may seem like a good enough reason to put registration off, I implore you to register any branding or creative works early on. If you invented something and built a business around it, you wouldn’t put off filing for a patent! Your website, marketing, and brand is just as important to your business’s success, so protect yourself now, and keep others from profiting off of your hard work.
About the Author:
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.