Everything from ideas and product designs to logos and slogans need to be protected to keep your business going.
Your business has physical aspects that need to be protected, but just as important is your intellectual property. This includes everything from ideas and product designs to logos and slogans.
As a lawyer specializing in business law and intellectual property, Mason Cole, co-founder of the Chicago-based business law firm Cole Sadkin, knows the dire consequences of not protecting this facet of your business – stolen intellectual property can potentially end your business.
We recently spoke with Cole about intellectual property, why it needs to be protected and how to safeguard it.
Q. What types of intellectual property protections exist?
A. Trademarks are filed to protect names, logos, and slogans. Copyrights are filed to protect content, such as images and written word. Patents are used to protect ideas and concepts, such as physical products and designs.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office is the enforcement body regulating most intellectual property in terms of granting applications. The federal and state court system allows for plaintiffs to protect their proprietary information from infringers.
Q. Is all intellectual property worth protecting?
A. Intellectual property, much like a business' goodwill, are the central reason why people hire you as opposed to a competitor. Aggressive protection, along with enforcement of infringement, allows a business to protect their hard work and effort.
Q. Do you need to protect your intellectual property if you have a non-disclosure agreement with those you work with?
A. Absolutely! An NDA merely requires confidentiality. IP protection provides lasting confidence.
Q. If you do have intellectual property worth protecting, what steps should you be taking to protect it?
A. Immediately speak to a lawyer to determine if your proprietary information is even possible to protect. You do not want to spend significant early-stage capital to protect your idea, or build a company, if you cannot [legally] protect what is yours.
Once you determine the applicability of IP protection, you need to determine its value. Can you make more money providing your unique communication device directly to the public, or should you look to license to a larger company with the sales infrastructure already in place?
Q. How much should a business expect to pay to protect their intellectual property?
A. Any lawyer will provide a free [consultation] to help make this determination. Most protection is handled on a flat-fee basis, so small businesses should be able to reasonably estimate their fees. Businesses should be wary of hourly engagements, where their early-stage capital may flit away to legal fees.
A business owner should attempt to budget for intellectual property, but he or she must also recognize that this is a mere start of the process. Budgeting for legal fees and forgetting long-term marketing and production would be foolhardy.
Q. If you do get your intellectual property protected, does that protection last forever? Or, does it expire at some point and need to be reapplied for?
A. Each type of intellectual property has different restrictions. More importantly, technology is always changing and improving. You must constantly monitor your intellectual property to make sure it covers your current technology.
Q. If someone does infringe on your protected property, how should you handle it?
A. Call a lawyer. IP laws are relatively straightforward, so enforcement is typically effective. However, you must be aggressive to confirm your rights.