If you’re going to invest the time and money to protect your intellectual property, you must be prepared to defend your rights.
– Jim Blasingame, Small Business Advocate
A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed by Jim Blasingame, host of the syndicated radio program Small Business Advocate. (You can listen to the interview here.) Jim is also the highly respected author of The Age of the Customer. As he was doing the research and developing ideas for his book, Jim wisely registered a trademark on his intellectual property through his company, Small Business Network, Inc.
While we were off-air between interview segments, Jim explained to me how strongly he believes in protecting intellectual property and just how important it is for marketers to invest in trademarking their content. He told me a story about a time after he had published his book and then discovered a large research firm had appropriated his “Age of the Customer” expression and was claiming it as their property. In true “David and Goliath” fashion, Jim took on the larger firm and won. He successfully defended his rights and ended up licensing the usage of his IP back to the larger firm (and made a good return on his investment in the process, I’m sure)!
We are living in an amazing age of fast-paced idea generation and transformational innovation. New ideas and new products hit the market every day, every minute practically! Many of these ideas and innovations serve to benefit the majority – making our lives better, more enjoyable, more successful, and more entertaining. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people out there who focus their energy not on innovation, but rather on misappropriation – trying to make money from someone else’s idea or invention. And, given that all businesses today compete in a global market, this problem is only going to expand in the years to come.
If you come up with a new idea or invent a new product, how can you protect it from being copied or stolen? The best way to do this is to apply for a patent so that if someone does try to copy it, he or she can be prosecuted.
Here are 3 key steps you must follow to protect and defend your intellectual property (IP) successfully:
1. Properly Identify, Categorize and Label Your Intellectual Property
The first thing you need to do is determine the category into which your intellectual property falls. Each of these categories requires a different type of application and a separate process:
- Patent – These are usually filed if you have invented something that is new. A patent will prevent anyone copying and selling your invention without your permission. It usually lasts around 20 years from the date of filing.
- Copyright – Copyright is used for the protection of ideas such as books, movies, music, and software. It gives you the legal power to take a person to the civil court for infringement of your copyright.
- Trademark – A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A Service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Some examples include are brand names, slogans, and logos. The term “trademark” is often used in a general sense to refer to both trademarks and service marks.
Once you have determined where your IP fits, you can apply for the appropriate legal protection. You must also place a copyright or trademark symbol on your IP so that it is evident these are protected.
2. Execute Non-Disclosure Agreements With Third Parties
If you are working with customers, contractors, or other partners who are either interacting with or applying your intellectual property, you should execute a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”). NDAs are commonly executed between businesses, as they offer one of the most surefire ways to protect IP, trade secrets, and other confidential information meant to be kept under wraps. Information commonly protected by NDAs might include designs for a new product, client information, sales and marketing plans, or a unique process. Using a nondisclosure agreement encourages third parties to protect your secrets as if they were their own, and if not, you’ll have legal recourse and grounds to sue for damages.
3. Diligently Guard Against Infringements
If you discover that one of your trademarks, copyrights, or patents have been used without your permission, you can take legal action for infringement. At this point, it is best to speak to an attorney who specializes in IP protection law. Engaging a lawyer who has specialized knowledge of patent, copyright, and trademark law is a good idea because they have the experience to help you, and understand the process and how best to protect your rights. You will want to serve notice to the person or company to stop using your property immediately. There are usually time limits imposed on these notices. It may be that they have used it without knowing it was protected. In such cases, a letter asking it to be removed will work. However, if this does not stop it, you may have to proceed with legal action against them. As Jim Blasingame so rightly pointed out to me: “You must be diligent in the protection of your IP rights. As marketers, we invest so much time and effort in creating the intangible assets to build our brands and grow our businesses. We have to be prepared to protect and defend those IP assets with just as much, if not more, energy and commitment.”
Protecting your intellectual property is vital to building your brand; safeguarding your investment in your products or services; and ultimately, increasing the valuation of the business. If you’re committed to transforming your business through marketing, you must get all 3S’s right: the right Story, the right Strategy, and the right Systems, all measured through the lens of Simplicity, Clarity, and Alignment. Through that process, you will undoubtedly generate valuable intellectual property that will have the potential to differentiate your brand in the market and create new ways to generate revenue for your business. Learn more about how TopRight’s 3S Approach (Story, Strategy, and Systems) can help you transform your marketing to drive measurable results in our eBook: Transformational Marketing – Moving to the TopRight.
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