According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, small businesses and companies are realizing that “intangible assets are often becoming more valuable than their physical assets.” Innovation and creativity now lead the charge for the small business owner and entrepreneur seeking competitive advantage in the modern and ultra-competitive marketplace as intangible assets take center stage. Small business owners, entrepreneurs, creatives, and inventors alike should know how to legally protect their intangible assets, especially when and where the criteria for intellectual property protections are met.
Common Intellectual Property Protections Include:
- Copyrights ©
- Trademarks ®
- Trade Secrets
Copyrights protect the expression of an idea. Examples include computer software, works of visual art, music, and video, a company’s logo and artwork, and books, training manuals, and treatises. While most creators and owners of copyrightable works are likely to find common law protections for their work, nevertheless certain benefits are afforded to those that take the extra step to seek registration of their work with the United States and Copyright Office (“USCO”). Those benefits may include obtainment of lost profits and royalties, injunctive relief, and the ability to recover legal fees.
The process for registering a copyright is both cost effective and efficient. Even still, completing a copyright application may be daunting to most non-lawyers, as well as present certain landmines that may go unnoticed if left to navigate alone. The Team at Dom Law, PA, has worked with countless creators, business owners, and entrepreneurs to register their creative works and seek copyright protection for business owners, entrepreneurs, creators, and inventors.
Common Intellectual Property Assets to seek Copyright Protection for include;
- A company’s logo and artwork
- A businesses’ training and education handbooks and material
- Computer software and application coding
- Marketing videos and theme songs
- Movies, Music, and Audiovisual Productions
A trademark is a distinctive word, phrase, logo, symbol or other method that a business can use to identify the source of its product or service, and distinguish those products or services, especially from competitors. A trademark can and should be registered with the state the business is offering the service or product, or federally with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).
The process for registering a trademark begins with trademark identification, research and due diligence, and application preparation and submission, including payment of the necessary filing fees. The trademark registration process can be a lengthy one that includes repeated back-and-fourth communications and submissions with either the state agency or USPTO’s office. If successful, trademark registration can provide the registrant business owner with strong intellectual property protections that include the right to seek injunctive relief, i.e., a court order that can stop a competing business or infringing practice from using or diluting a registered trademark.
Common Intellectual Property Assets to seek Trademark Protection for include:
- A company’s brand, logo, and slogan
- A businesses’ trade dress
- A website domain
- Certain inventions and products (in conjunction with a patent)
- Events such as music and arts festivals
The Team at Dom Law, PA, has worked with numerous small businesses to obtain trademark registrations, including successfully working with the USPTO’s office to overcome trademark refusals and seek and develop alternate branding options. These include “Little Donut House®”, “Viva Tampa Bay Hispanic Heritage Festival ®”, and the mascot for Egypt Shriners Circus, Dapper Dan ®.
A trade secret is any information of commercial value that is not available to the public domain and provides a business competitive advantage in the marketplace. The world’s most well-known trade secret is the formula for Coca Cola. For the small businesses, its trade secrets include confidential information such as customer and pricing lists, marketing strategies, and unique business methodologies.
Common Intellectual Property Assets to seek Trade Secret Protection over include:
- Customer, Client and Supplier Lists and Information
- Marketing Strategies
- Employee and Sales Training
- Pricing Lists
- Formulas and Recipes
There is no single way to “register” a trade secret. Rather, the small business owner obtains trade secret protection through the proper implementation of a trade secret protection program. A properly designed trade secret protection program may include taking the following steps:
- Preparing and enforcing restrictive covenants through confidentiality and employment agreements that include non-solicitation and non-competition provisions;
- Conducting regular employee training;
- Requiring exit interviews for departing employees;
- Safeguarding a businesses’ equipment and files, including restricting access to documents on the cloud; and
- Implementing proper security protocols to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of confidential, trade secret information, including designating documents as “Confidential”.
These are but a few of the steps involved in developing a businesses’ trade secret protection program; a well-designed program usually requires legal-issue-spotting, fact-specific-analysis, and a working knowledge of intellectual property law. The Team at Dom Law, PA, has worked with businesses across the state of Florida to ensure that those businesses maximize the value and protection of its trade secrets by taking such an approach.
Intellectual Property Enforcement And Infringement
The flip-side of intellectual property identification, acquisition, and registration is enforcement and infringement. A businesses’ value in its intellectual property is usually only as good as that businesses’ ability to enforce its intellectual property. Enforcement may include:
- Sending Cease-and-Desist Letters and Demands
- Providing DMCA Take-Down Notices to ISP’s and the like, including Facebook and LinkedIn
- Institution of Cancellation Proceedings
- Filing lawsuits to seek relief for trade secret misappropriation under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”)
- Taking legal action to seek relief for copyright and trademark infringement, including dilution
Unfortunately for the business owner, sometimes it may be necessary in the business life-cycle to defend against the above enforcement; a task often better-suited for legal counsel possessing trial experience in addition to a working knowledge of intellectual property and the federal and state laws surrounding each area of intellectual property. The Team at Dom Law, PA, has experience representing clients: offensively through enforcement actions; and defensively when infringement has been alleged.