Copyrights, Trademarks, & Other Legal Mumbo Jumbo

By Andrew Brown

As a business owner, you are constantly seeking ways to establish or maintain competitive advantage. Your products and services represent your value and uniqueness in the market. Therefore, it is critical to take steps to protect them. Failure to do so could put your business at risk and jeopardize your ability to dominate your market.

If your business has a product needing to be branded or an idea that is important to protect, take advantage of the benefits provided by law. The goal of copyright and trademarks laws is to keep your company from dealing with unfair competition. When you have invested time and effort to developing something that gives you competitive advantage, you will want to put an equal amount of effort into protecting it. The last thing you want is for a competitor to take an unprotected brand or idea, and use it for their own advantage.

Developing and bringing your product or service to market takes time, effort, and money. Without taking care to copyright or trademark, another entity could imitate your offerings and seriously impact your advantage in the market. If you do not take the necessary steps to protect your business, proving copyright or trademark infringement in court could be a challenge.

"Intellectual property" is an umbrella term used for certain types of information, ideas or other intangibles. The term reflects the concept that the information, idea, or intangible is a product of the mind or the intellect and as such can be protected by law in the same way as property.

Trademarks and patents are two ways to protect intellectual property. A patent is typically used to protect items such as electronics and machines. However, the arena for patented items has been expanded and now includes business processes and software algorithms. For example, your business may have created a different method of utilizing a process or product and that can be patented. The main difference between trademarks and patents is that trademarks can be renewed as long as they are still being used in business. Patents grant exclusive rights for a fixed period of time.

Another means of protecting your company's advantage is to have products trademarked (or services "servicemarked"). This includes the name of your company. Trademark protection was created to protect symbols, sounds, colors, names, and words. Coca-Cola, Nike, and even the sound of Tony the Tiger are all trademarked. Trademark protection only applies to one field of the business. Thus, if your company developed a clothing line called "Apple," you would likely not be infringing on the computer company by the same name. However, this can be a complex and intricate area to navigate. Any questions or issues about trademarking should be taken to an attorney who specializes in this area of the law.

You can also protect you company's ideas, which would include things such as articles, music, cartoons, etc. If your company records or writes anything, current copyright laws provide protection, and you automatically own the copyright. The only time your ideas would not be copyrighted is if you assigned all or part of your copyright to someone or something else, or specifically made it available in the public domain.

Every business should do an analysis of their intellectual property. Many law firms have forms that will help you identify the items in your business that should be protected. Your analysis will include products, services, words, sounds, symbols, ideas, processes and more. The legal expense involved with protecting your business is a worthwhile investment. It is more cost efficient to do spend the time and money on the front end rather than finding yourself fighting a legal battle to challenge ownership.

Andrew Brown and Small Business Guru provide Coaching, Inspiration and Practical Advice for Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs. Subscribe to the free, weekly newsletter at


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