When first starting their business, many business owners focus entirely on the quantifiable or tangible, such as real estate, computers, products. One thing for small business owners to keep in mind, however, is protecting the intangible property, also known as intellectual property. The most common types of intellectual property are copyrights, trademarks, and patents. Each of these property areas provide different levels of protection for different types of work. In this article we will be focusing on protecting your business’ copyrights and trademarks.
How to Protect a Copyright
Copyrights protect artistic, creative, or intellectual works, for example, photos, artwork, music, and literature. Your business should use a copyright to protect written, film, audio, and other similar mediums of work.
Though a copyright is technically in effect the moment you create your work, there are several formal and method of protection you should utilize to make sure your copyright is not infringed upon.
Some initial tactics are:
- Marking your work with the copyright symbol: At a minimum, you should use the © symbol to denote a copyrighted work.
- Watermarking: You can make sure your work written, video, photographic, or marketing related work is properly denoted as proprietary by imprinting it with your signature or a watermark.
- Poor man’s copyright: This is the practice of sending your own work to yourself, through some time marked medium (email, for example), to establish the first date that the work was created.
Though these tactics are helpful in notifying the public of your intended rights to any work, the best method of protection for your copyrightable material is to register it federally. While copyright registration is not required, it will make it much easier to enforce your rights. Due to the intricate nature of registering intellectual property, you should work with an attorney to file your application with the U.S. Copyright Office. Once you have submitted your application to the Copyright Office, you include a copyright symbol and year of creation on all future works you produce.
As the owner of a copyright, you have exclusive rights to the use, publication, and distribution of your work. You can reproduce your work, create derivatives or modifications of the original work, and freely use the work for any reason, including commerce and marketing. You will also be able to openly perform and display your copyrighted work.
Most importantly, however, you will be able to defend your business form infringement and transfer these rights to others.
How to Protect a Trademark
Trademarks protect the use of a business’ name, branded products, logos, colors, and slogans used by the business to promote and distinguish itself from other businesses.
The United States is a “first-to-use” country, this means that legal protections are inherently provided simply by using your mark in public. However, those protections are limited and without formal federal trademark registration, you run the risk of another individual or business uses your mark. Typically, your mark will be granted protection in a limited geographic area relative to your place of business.
One of the most basic way to establish greater trademark protection is to file a local DBA. Filing a DBA is a fairly simple process. You will just need to:
- Go to the DBA registrar for your state
- Conduct a DBA search to make sure your chosen name is available
- Register; depending on you state you may need to register at the county and state level
However, as mentioned a DBA register is local, so if you plan to expand your business to any other states or countries, you will want to seek national protection. In order to obtain nationwide protection, you will need to register your mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO.
To register your trademark nationally you should:
- Choose a Mark: you will want to choose a mar the is not only unique, but also one that will, in some way, identify the good or service you are selling
- Decide Exactly What Goods/Service the Mark Will Apply To: your application must specifically identify the goods and/or services to which the mark will apply
- Search for Availability: this is perhaps the most complicated part of the trademark registration process. You can search using the USPTO trademark database, but it is highly recommended that you have an experienced attorney assist.
- Choose a Filing Basis: here you will decide between the “use in commerce” or “intent to use,” categories. If you have already been using the mark, you will want to choose “use in commerce”.
- File and Pay: any applicable feeds: federally trademark filing costs tend to range from $200-400 for each class of goods and service you want to apply the trademark to.
Since the date you file your application becomes your priority date, meaning anyone who attempts to file a similar mark after that date will be rejected, you should submit your trademark application as soon as possible.
Trademarks approved by the USPTO, do not expire, as long as you use it consistently, properly designate it with the “®” symbol, and meet renewal deadlines. The goal of any successful business is to have your product or service stand out in commerce, and a federally registered trademark will not only do that, it will also protect your brand.
Overall, both copyright and trademark intellectual property protections may be applicable to your business. Therefore, if you think your business has intellectual property that would benefit from federally protection, it might be helpful to work with an attorney for advice and guidance.
What Should You Do Next?
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This article is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader nor should it be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact our firm.