Small businesses are the source of some truly amazing ideas. Whether you’ve come up with a new product, service, or way to brand your business, it’s critical that you obtain protection for your intellectual property (IP). Without the necessary trademarks or patents, your valuable IP may be preempted by someone else in the eyes of the courts. Unfortunately, this happens all too often when another person or entity takes action to get legal protection before you do.
You may think, “Sure, but obtaining trademarks and patents is a complex process, and I don’t have the time or energy for that.” If so, you’re correct that protecting your IP isn’t easy, but it is essential. And if you believe that your company is small enough that you can “stay under the radar” regarding intellectual property, that’s a belief that can come back to haunt you.
Fortunately, a skilled intellectual law attorney can streamline and simplify the process of protecting your IP, so you don’t lose valuable IP or even your business entirely. That can occur for many reasons, including that you fail to take necessary actions in a timely manner.
An IP lawyer can also help ensure you aren’t committing any IP violations by inadvertently using somebody else’s ideas or branding. Being sued by a competitor and being found liable can be just as harmful to your business as having your IP stolen or having someone file before you do.
Below are five IP-related mistakes that companies often make—errors your intellectual property attorney can help you avoid.
Mistake #1: Assuming You Don’t Have Intellectual Property
It’s common for business owners to think that only large companies have IP. In reality, it would be hard to find an organization of any size that doesn’t have some type of IP.
Too often, businesses don’t know what can be trademarked, patented, or if there are other forms of protection to pursue. They may also assume their offerings are similar enough to others that they can’t be protected. However, IP attorneys are skilled at identifying features of products, services, or brands that make them unique.
The list of items that can be protected by IP law is long and includes things like:
~ Words, symbols, devices, or colors that distinguish the company or its offerings from others
~ Machines, tools, and production processes
~ Improvements or enhancements to existing inventions or processes
~ Even unique types of smells! (Play-Doh is a good example.)
As a result, you should never assume that you can’t protect your IP. Talk with a specialist who can give you a definitive answer.
Mistake #2: Believing Your Business is Too Small to Be Noticed
Businesses are never too small to get the attention of competitors, some of whom may be interested in preying on them. For the incredibly anxious, there is a common belief in some circles that there are probably people researching your company as you read this blog.
In fact, an argument could be made that individual entrepreneurs and small businesses might be at greater risk due to their size. Others might assume the company doesn’t have IP protection or will be unwilling to put up a fight and is “ripe for the picking.”
You have to show them they’ve underestimated your knowledge of IP and commitment to protecting what’s yours. As disgraceful as it is for one company to steal another’s IP, you can’t prevent it without the right IP strategy in place. Imagine getting a “cease and desist” letter regarding your own idea because someone else filed a patent application before you!
Mistake #3: Undervaluing Your Intellectual Property
“Our IP probably isn’t worth much.” Those are famous last words from many small businesses that failed to seek IP protection and lost their rights to their innovations or branding. Even if your idea isn’t worth a fortune, it probably has tremendous importance, including that it:
~ Increases your company’s valuation. By some estimates, 70% of an organization’s value comes from intangible assets like IP.
~ Keeps you ahead of competitors. If you’ve protected your IP assets, those companies are legally precluded from using your ideas to generate revenue.
~ Creates differentiation between you and others in your industry. Companies that stand out get ahead.
An essential pattern to recognize is that making assumptions about your IP can be very costly.
Mistake #4: Waiting to Protect Your Product or Brand
The proverb that a person “who hesitates is lost” is very appropriate in the world of intellectual property. Dragging your feet can lead to losing everything from rights to revenue.
On the flip side, securing your IP puts you in the driver’s seat. Getting certain types of IP protection can take months to years. But just submitting your application creates a timestamp that can be referenced later if a question arises about who “had” an idea or brand first.
Another party can claim they thought of a product, service, or branding element years ago. But if you have a legal filing showing precisely when you began pursuing IP protection, that’s likely a strong case that you were there first.
With a trademark or patent application on file (or, better yet, approved), you can start marketing your offerings or using your branding, confident you own them.
Mistake #5: Trying to DIY a Patent or Trademark
You are incredibly bright. You had an idea or created a brand that is starting to show some return on your investment. You are bootstrapping for as long as possible until you get traction.
It might seem that filing a patent or trademark application on your own would be a good way to get critical IP protection. Unfortunately, that approach comes with risks. One is that you make a mistake in completing the application, which gets rejected or returned to you for corrections that might not be fixable. Another is that you waste valuable time and effort seeking protection for something that isn’t eligible.
An experienced IP attorney can prevent those and other mistakes and help you file patent or trademark applications. With guidance from someone who understands the system, you minimize delays and maximize the odds of obtaining the patents or trademarks you need.
Get Assistance From IP Experts
Protect your invention or brand, establish a foothold in your industry, and make a challenging process enjoyable by working with the right IP law firm. Schedule an initial IP evaluation with the intellectual property attorneys at Wilson Dutra Innovation Law.