padlockThe business world is a rough place. It's a hyper-competitive ecosystem, and just as animals in the wild will fight tooth and nail to protect their territory, so to must businesses fight to protect what belongs to them. While the actual physical property of a company may seem the obvious example of a business' property, their intellectual property is even more important to keep safe.

In the fight for investment and consumer dollars, many businesses can be ruthless in trying to get the advantage on their competition. And while not all would go so far as to steal from other businesses, it would be foolish to assume your company's assets are safe. After all, we go th great legnths to protect not only our personal possessions, but all of out passwords and PINs and anything else that we think can be used to steal out identity; why not use as much, if not more, care to protect the business that you've poured your time and energy into? Here are some tips to help keep your IP secure.

1. Mark what's yours.

You undoubtedly own any number of copyrights or trademarks on material used on your website or in marketing information; make sure that you're marking it as such to discourage others from using it without permission or licensing. It's easy for the untrained to mistake unmarked photos or illustrations as free to use, but seeing the ® or ™ will make would-be infringers second thoughts. The same can be said for any inventions or innovations you've worked up - make sure that you have patents on those things so you can market and sell your products without having others copy your designs.

2. Document, document, document!

There are fewer things more important than thorough and detailed documentation when it comes to preventing potential ownership disputes. Keeping notes of all your work and having them time-stamped can be your trump card if another company tries to claim that they were first to the post in creating a similar product. (Fortunately, the IP Vault provides time stamping for just such a case.) Documentation also helps you when tax season rolls around, as the IRS prefers more than rough estimates when filing. Keeping receipts of all your expenditures will save you loads of grief, not to mention a potential audit.

3. Loose lips sink ships.

Sometimes the biggest threat to your company's secrets is yourself (or your employees). An errant comment in a public setting or a too-detailed presentation at a trade show can leave your IP at risk of public disclosure. Part of company policy should surround trade secrets and confidentiality, informing everyone that saying too much to the wrong people can jeopardize the furure of the business. By ensuring that everyone is aware of this policy and the penalties for breaking it, you can help prevent against sesitive information leaks.

4. Trust but verify.

As you're working your way up the ladder, chances are you'll come across any number of people that you'd like to work with or who would like to work with you. And while it may be tempting to look at any such offer as a positive, it's usually good to proceed with a bit of caution if it's a person or company that you don't yet know well. A bit of research on social media and other forums can help you determine what kind of person you might be dealing with and clue you in if they've had any prior shady dealings. While most, if not all, will check out, a bit of dilligence can help you avoid getting into business with questionable characters.

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