You can read Part 1 here.
Copyrights and Trademarks
From my experience, much of the hesitation around getting copyrights and trademarks is down to a lack of understanding about what they are and what they specifically apply to. Patents are better understood; mention patents and their minds immediately go to grade school lessons about Edison and the light bulb or other landmark inventions. But copyright and trademark are less clear, and often people use the terms interchangeably despite being two different things entirely.
If you have unique ideas that exist in a tangible form, you automatically have copyright on them. However, having this copyright doesn’t mean that the copyright is automatically filed with the U.S. Copyright Office, and you need that filing if you want to be able to take legal action against potential infringers. You may think that they’re too unrefined or perhaps not up to par for a copyright filing, but it’s important to be able to claim these ideas as your own for future use. If you have designs for an invention, a creative work like a song, movie, or artistic expression, or even copy that you have on your website, you want to make sure that you’re filing for a copyright.
Trademarks are equally important for your brand. You’ve worked hard to build up your brand equity and trust with your customers and clients, so you don’t want to see others trying to cash in on your hard work. Trademarks will help protect things like your logo and branding to make sure that you can go after those who might try to steal your unique brand identity.
Physical or Digital Protection
We all take care to make sure that our doors are locked and our valuable possessions are secured when we leave our homes or offices. So why would you leave something as your ideas lying around?
If you have drawings, designs, blueprints or even prototypes at your office, make sure that you keep them locked away to protect against theft. Even if you have copyrights or patents on these things, that doesn’t mean that someone wouldn’t steal them regardless and try to replicate your ideas; it seems unlikely that someone willing to steal others’ work is put off by the idea of proprietary rights. And while these protections would give you a rock solid case in court, legal proceedings are still a long and expensive process that is probably best avoided if possible.
In addition to a safe or other secure physical storage, it is wise to make sure that any physical copies are also stored in a secure digital format. Should the unthinkable happen and a natural disaster of some sort hits your office, having digital copies of your designs ensures that your work isn’t lost forever to circumstances beyond your control. And many storage sites offer services like time-stamping for uploads, which can prove useful in showing when you came up with an idea should you need to prove it in a court case.
Get Professional Help
While some might suggest that seeking professional help is in reference to anyone crazy enough to consider starting their own business, in this case it relates to expertise outside your own. Entrepreneurs have a wide skill set, but there are still many areas outside of their knowledge base. That’s why they build teams, and why the wisest seek outside help for things they aren’t sure about, especially when it comes to legal matters.
There are plenty of former (reformed?) lawyers who start their own businesses, but the majority of business owners aren’t legal experts. So when it comes to things like contracts and agreements, it’s a good idea to seek out a legal professional for their advice. The hourly rates that most lawyers charge may put some entrepreneurs off and prompt them to try and handle things themselves, which can lead to mistakes and oversights. It may cost more in the short term to pay the legal fees, but the comfort in knowing that the contracts you sign, as well as the contracts and agreements that you craft for others to sign, are done correctly is worth the cost.