By Stevan Bosses, SCORE Westchester Mentor
Your invention, unique product or service, or even your brand name and logo (often called your “intellectual property”) are the heart of your business and need to be safeguarded. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs overlook the importance of protecting their creations. Failure to protect them can result in not being able to stop someone else infringing or violating your rights – rights that you have spent a great deal of time and money to develop. Although fighting for what’s yours in the courts may incur lengthy and expensive litigation, if you have protected yourself, a cease and desist letter from your lawyer may do the trick and save you a great deal of money. Failing to protect your intellectual property can seriously set you back, or worse, dash your hopes altogether for growing a successful business enterprise.
Protecting your intellectual property is just plain good business practice, and every entrepreneur should be familiar with the four major types of protection:
1. Use a patent to protect your inventions or discoveries. If you have discovered a new and useful product, process or composition that has not existed before, you definitely need a patent. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a patent is an intellectual property right granted to an inventor that gives the owner the right to prevent others from making, using, or selling the invention throughout the U.S. or importing the invention into the U.S.
2. Use a trademark to protect words, phrases, symbols, designs, sounds, color combinations or anything else by which your business or product is differentiated from those of others. The swoosh in the logo of Nike is one of the most recognized brands in the world, as are the golden arches of McDonald’s and the letters IBM.
3. Use copyright to protect original works of authorship. Copyright protects creative undertakings that are not of a utilitarian nature, such as novels, paintings, songs, and poetry. While an individual or business does not have to register a copyright because it automatically takes effect the moment your work is created, you must have registered if you ever need to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement. As an example, the contents of the SCORE Westchester website is copyrighted.
4. Protect "Trade Dress" -- the colors, layouts, packaging, and displays that distinguish a product or service from all others. In a 1992 Supreme Court case, the court found that a Mexican restaurant chain’s décor could be considered inherently distinctive, citing the distinctive murals, bright-colored pottery, neon-colored board strips and outdoor umbrellas.
For more information on how to protect your business's intellectual property, make an appointment with a SCORE Westchester mentor by calling 914-948-3907 today.
Interested in learning more from SCORE Westchester? Join us for one of our informational workshops - see full list of upcoming workshops HERE!
Stevan Bosses, has spent more than 45 years litigating and counseling clients in intellectual property matters. Bosses is also a SCORE Westchester small business mentor.