Image Courtesy: Cristian Bortes via MagdeleineEvery small business should have a basic understanding of the laws that apply to protecting intellectual property. It is the only way a company will be able to protect their unique creations and ideas from competitors. There are four major ways a small business can obtain legal protection for intellectual property (IP).

Trade Secrets
This is business information that a company keeps secret. This information gives the small business an advantage over their competitors. It could be a device, method, formula and more. A trade secret example could be anything from the ingredients used in a food product, to the process used for creating an object. This cannot be protected by registering it. A small business must control access to this type of information. Companies must use Non-Disclosure Agreements, employment covenants and more to protect their trade secret.

Copyright
A small business may have created literature to sell their product that should have copyright protection. Copyright protection could also include music, computer software and more. In theory, copyright protection occurs the minute the work in created. When a small business holds a copyright, they will be able to better prove their case if a copyright infringement lawsuit becomes necessary. Details of copyright registration can be found at the US Copyright office website.

Trademark
A trademark is a design, phrase, or symbol that identifies the creator of the goods. The golden arches of McDonald's, as well as its phrase “I'm Lovin' it,” are examples of registered trademarks. In theory, trademarks are acquired as they are used. Registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides the business who created it with a better chance of protecting the trademark.

Patent
This gives a small business the rights to their inventions. Having a patent will enable the small business to keep others from manufacturing, using, or selling their invention. A patent is obtained by completing the application process from the USPTO. There are three different types of patent applications: process, plant, and design. The details of each can be found the USPTO website.

A company's unique ideas will become more valuable as the business grows, so it's important for the business owner to identify and protect their intellectual property regularly and thoroughly.


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