cactusIntellectual property is the most valuable asset for all businesses. But too many startups incorporate and hit the ground running without first identifying and taking proactive steps to identify or protect their IP. Without the right coverage, your brand, your name, your slogans and anything else you create is vulnerable to theft.

In order to fully protect your IP, you need to go throught everything you've created in every medium to determine what needs to be protected. It can seem like a chore, especially when you have so many aspects of your business that need tending to, but taking the time early to identify what needs to be done for IP protection can prevent long-term issues.

Many startups don't know where to begin when it comes to IP, or neglect it entirely in favor of seemingly more pressing issues. But IP is a vital part of your company, whether you pay attention to it or not. Here are the most common issues faced by start-ups (and how to solve them): 

Too little, too late

Don't wait until it's too late to protect your IP. The time to think about IP protection isn't after your business has achieved a certain level of success. Issues like theft and infringement are indiscriminate of what stage your business is in. If anything, your risk becomes greater as your company grows and gains exposure.

The solution is to protect all your IP from the start. The main assets to focus on are your products, your website, and your people. Make sure your company name is registered at the state and federal level, and spend the money it takes to own the trademark on your name and product names early on. But first do some searching on more than just the USPTO; look on Google as well. 

Be crystal clear with your contractors

If your company requires the services of a contractor, also known as "work-for-hire", it pays to be forthright about who owns what before they get to work. Too many companies, in their enthusiasm for a new consultant or media expert, write the check (plus a hefty "retainer") and let them loose. 

If the contract is not drafted carefully, you may never own the IP created. Contractors may have the freedom to retain intellectual rights to whatever they produce for you, and re-sell it later at competitive rates. 

Don't create more competition for your company, there's plenty out there already. IP issues may seem overwhelming on the surface, but if you invest your time and resources wisely and early, you can avoid a lot of heartache and a hefty lawsuit in the future. 

Want to learn more about issues your business may face? Sign up for Mary's webinar on August 5.