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How to protect your small business' intellectual property

It may not seem important when your company is young and small, but taking precautions concerning your intellectual property now will pay off in the long run.

The two most important resources to a small business are time and money. That's why when a subject like intellectual property (IP) comes up, it gets shoved aside for more immediate items. IP is always thought to involve expensive lawyers and costly lawsuits that only big companies worry about. Ironically, small businesses are more likely to be put out of business by larger companies if they refuse to protect their business property.

Consider this real-life example: Cryptography Research, a 20-employee data security technology firm based in San Francisco that began in 2004 decided to pursue litigation against the credit card giant Visa. Cryptography asserted that Visa was infringing on its patents that covered smart cards.  After selling off a piece of its business, Cryptography became a formidable opponent for Visa. The gamble paid off with Visa agreeing to settle out of court with the right to license the technology from Cryptography. By use of a patent that gave the company exclusive right to prevent and stop others from making, using, selling or offering for sale its product and process, based on the patented invention, it secured a crucial component of its business.

So how do you protect your small business intellectual property from the big boys or from fierce competition, either through the Internet, or on the global market?

Patents

Granted, many small businesses don't have products or processes that can be patented. However, for those that do, they are worth protecting. A case in point involves the small holding company NTP and (BlackBerry maker) RIM. The epic lawsuit between the two companies would eventually see RIM paying millions of dollars to license the wireless e-mail delivery innovation from NTP.  Patents like this open doors to their owners in terms of licensing and cross-licensing while closing doors to competitors, effectively protecting a company's competitive advantage.

Trademarks

A trademarked name could well be the foundation of a product or service line. Protecting your trademark is a way of protecting your future business growth. Big brands like Apple and Burge King spend millions building their brands. Small businesses expecting to grow can preserve their assets by using and protecting their trademarks in the early stages. This includes securing the Web address or URL of your business or product before someone else does.

Copyrighting

A copyright gives you the right to play, print, publish, or perform a piece of material or content. One danger that small businesses are facing on the Internet is the proliferation of sharing. Protecting your sold products and services from Internet piracy through copyrighting can not only enhance your small business security but also help in case some big brand decides to benefit from your work without a license. Some of the things you can copyright include website content, product literature, product catalogs, packaging content, labels and marketing or advertising materials.

Data protection

While you may not have a life-altering product like the iPhone or a global service like Google Search, your small business data is a valuable asset and deserves to be protected just the same. Having a well-defined security plan that includes mobile device policies, social network use, and sharing trade secrets will ensure that your information does not leak out.

Auditing your data to get a clear picture of where your sensitive data resides and who can access it can help you put some of these rules in place. You can employ sophisticated defense measures like application white-listing which restrict only trusted programs to run on your corporate network. Tools like MobileIron are also available that enforce security compliance for data on mobile devices.

It may not seem important when your company is young and small, but taking precautions concerning your intellectual property now will pay off in the long run.

About

David Gitonga is an avid reader and writer and has worked with various companies to design, develop, and maintain their websites. He has worked with websites as an online content marketing strategist in the field of tech, social media, design, and de...

1 comments
r.thomas
r.thomas

Good article - but seemed to be thin on the practical of how to protect yourself.