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Making Sure Your IP Is Protected

By Jennifer Motia

You've created an amazing product and you are ready to introduce it to the world. One of the most important considerations for an entrepreneur bringing a new product to market is intellectual property protection. This sets the foundation for everything from selling and manufacturing the product to licensing it and defending your right to distribute the product if that's ever challenged.

Considering the investment of effort, time, and money that goes into developing products, you want to take all the steps necessary to ensure that your new device is a successful and a profitable investment. Here's how to keep your original ideas and your brand reputation intact, no matter what type of products you're dealing with.

1. Patent your product or process

Patenting your product prevents copycats from stealing your ideas, and shows that you've created an original and unique device or process. Whether you've developed a completely new product or simply improved on the original design of an existing product, patenting your product is an important element to help protect your idea.

Patents protect both unique products and processes, such as a brand new machine or an improved way of manufacturing something. As the inventor of a product or process, you are granted sole rights to that product when you obtain a patent. These sole rights encompass the rights to manufacture, sell, and distribute the product. Patents also preserve your right to sell or license the technology to another firm.

Before you go ahead with your invention, it's a good idea to check out whether or not something like it is already patented. You can browse to see if there are any products like yours already on the market or learn more about the patenting process at the United States Trade and Patent Office website: http://www.uspto.gov/patents/process/search/. Filing a patent can be a complicated and expensive process, so consider hiring a professional to help you navigate the system.

2. Copyrighting your book, album, or work of art

Maybe you are an author who has just written your first book, and you are hoping to get it published. Or you are a musician who has just produced your first album. Copyrighting is similar to patenting in that it protects your writing, music, or art from copycats, and designates your work as original. Having your written, musical, or artistic product copyrighted protects your right to make money from the product and prevent copycats and pirates from profiting off of your work.

Copyrighting is a less complex process than patenting. If you'd like to copyright a document you've written, you can easily just write a note at the bottom with the date indicating that it's copyrighted to your business. One popular method is to then send yourself a sealed, registered document via the US Postal Service containing the document and not opening it; by doing so, you've effectively made the USPS a witness to your copyright in case of any confusion.

If you'd like to further protect your work, you can also go through a formal process with the United States government at the following site: http://www.copyright.gov/.  The process is relatively straightforward and the fees are affordable.

3. Trademarking your brand, logo, product name...

If you are running a business, you've probably worked really hard to develop your reputation and brand recognition. While you don't necessarily need a trademark, it is helpful in protecting your business, product names, and logos. Trademarks cover brand names, visual elements, and written elements such as product names and taglines.

Under US law, a trademark is considered a form of property. So if you are looking to protect your brand or an innovative product name or logo, you may want to consider applying for a trademark.  This can help prevent brand erosion and give you legal recourse if anyone encroaches on your brand. The trademarking process involves several steps. To learn more and apply for a trademark for your business or product name, you can visit the United States Trade and Patent Office website at: http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/index.jsp.  It can also be worthwhile to consider hiring a professional to assist with the trademark process.

Protecting your intellectual property is a crucial step on the road to success for your business. Understanding what types of intellectual property protection your business and products require is an important step in the right direction. This ensures that your original idea is protected by law from copycats, and gives you the peace of mind knowing that you are the sole owner of the product or process that you spent your time developing. While this effort may take an investment of time or capital, it's well worth it to establish a solid legal foundation upon which your business can continue to grow in the years ahead.

About the Author

Jennifer Motian researches patent sales. She’s been involved in the IP industry for over 10 years.

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium