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What is “Intellectual Property,” and Do I Have Any?

Small businesses often overlook their “intellectual property.” They might think (incorrectly) that their business is too small to have any or that if they have some it is not very valuable. However, that often cannot be farther from the truth. Even small businesses have valuable “intellectual property” that they should work to protect.

What is Intellectual Property?

“Intellectual Property” is a legal term for the non-tangible stuff that a business owns. Often, it is what truly makes your business or distinguishes it from other businesses that perform the same goods or services. It is what sets you apart, and what causes customers to recognize and choose your business.

Valuable intellectual property that even a business (whether large or small) may have includes: its name; its logo; the general look and feel of its products/location; its secret recipe; and the advertising it puts out. That list is not all-inclusive but serves to give a general idea of what to look for when considering your intellectual property.

What are the types of Intellectual Property?

There are several general types of intellectual property. Those include copyright, trademarks, trade names, trade secrets, and patents.

A copyright includes any “original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” In other words, it deals with the paper marketing, television ads, radio ads, etc. Basically, anything “original” that you have put together. This could also include your website or the content on your website.

Trademarks are typically your company’s logo but can also include your company’s name. These are the visual identifiers of your business. They are the things people see and connect them with your business.

A trade name is the name by which your company is identified in business. This is quite often different that the formal name of the company. For example, if your business is “ABC, LLC” but people know your business as “Joe’s Pizza House,” the name “Joe’s Pizza House” could be considered your trade name.

Trade secrets are the secret information about your business. The most common example is your secret recipe for whatever product you make. It is a closely guarded secret, that you take steps to prevent others outside the organization from discovering. It could also include a specific compilation of certain information, which you specifically maintain confidential.

Patents are probably the most obvious of the intellectual property. If you have a patent, you know you have it because you have to apply to get a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This most commonly covers tangible inventions.

Why should I protect my Intellectual Property?

The intellectual property represents your business’s good will; which you have fought to develop over the course of your business. Your customers come to recognize your company’s name, logo, etc. and associate it with the particular quality of product or service you provide. It is important to protect that intellectual property so that another company does not capitalize on the hard work you have done to gain your company’s good will, and to ensure that another company does not tarnish your company’s name. If, for example, someone were to open a business using your company’s name but provide a vastly inferior service to your company, your customers may think both are really the same company and they may lose faith in the “real” business.

Each type of intellectual property has its own requirements to be able to protect it. But, the common thread among them is that it is vital that you take steps to protect your intellectual property.

If you own a business, large or small, call the attorneys at the Goosmann Law Firm, in our Sioux City, Omaha, Sioux Falls, or Spirit Lake offices to discuss your company’s intellectual property and what you should be doing to protect it.