Last night I learned the best business information that I have heard in quite a while from Oliff & Berridge, PLC wait for it-Intellectual Property Rights. In building our empires we are so caught up in success and growth that we don’t think about risk. After you have spent years building your brand recognition and customer base, how easy is it for someone to come along and tell you that your brand is not your own and you must immediately stop using it? Here are a few of the nuggets I learned; maybe they will be as useful to you.
Know your IP Topic and how it applies to your business
There are four types of intellectual property topics, the key to good IP protection is knowing which one applies to your company.
Copyright Law- this is creative expression, how you present your information. Not the information, but how you present it.
Trademark Law- this is how you brand your business.
Law-this refers to your ideas, inventions and designs.
Trade Secret Law-this applies to the proprietary information of your company and your clients.
You don’t have to use a symbol for your material to have a copyright
The first rule of copyright that I learned was that copyright applies to the creative expression, not the ideas themselves. So while you may have the next big idea, copyright will only protect how you tell people about that idea. The second rule of copyright is that it has to be in a fixed tangible medium, in other words it has to be written down on something. As soon as it is written, it is copyrighted.
Customers decide your brand
When competing companies have similar branding who gets awarded the trade mark is decided by the potential confusion of the customer. So if you have a restaurant that starts in New York and a new restaurant opens with a name so similar that customers confuse it for the original, it has failed the trademark test. If customers confuse you with a competitor, please pack your knives and go home.
You are on the hook for your client’s trade secrets
Trade secrets are the life blood of a consultant, but all business to business services deal with trade secrets to some degree. What you don’t know is that if you aren’t careful about protecting your client’s trade secrets and their competitors come to have knowledge of that information, you are on the hook for infringement.
All in all it was enough to make me sit up and listen and the questions flying in the room were fast and furious. As a business owner you have a responsibility to protect your business and that includes protecting your brand.
*This information is not legal advice, Oliff and Berridge aren’t presenting any legal advice and if you have any question about your IP, you should contact your attorney.