Everyone knows that starting a new business can be both exciting and terrifying. The prospect of being your own boss and having an idea that you believe in is cause for celebration. But being in charge also means that you have increased responsibility to keep track of certain things, like your finances, employees, and intellectual property.
In this article, we will go over a few things new entrepreneurs should know about intellectual property, so that you can go back to being excited about your new business.
- How do I register my intellectual property?
Before registering your intellectual property, you should inventory the type of intellectual property your business has at its disposal.
- Patents: You can apply for patent protection if you have an invention that is new, inventive and useful. The invention can be a product (like a door lock), a composition, a machine, a process, or an improvement of any of these.
- Industrial design: You can apply for an industrial design registration to protect the visual aspects of a design as applied to a finished article, like the shape of a computer monitor or the pattern of a knitted sweater.
- Trademarks: A trademark can be a logo or slogan that you use in association with your services or products. You can also trademark a scent, a sound (like the MGM lion roar), or a design, if they differentiate your business from competitors.
- Copyright: If you produce an original literary (like a poem), dramatic, musical or artistic work, your intellectual creation may be eligible for copyright protection. While an original work may be automatically protected by copyright when it is created (depending on the copyright laws where you live), you can use your registration as evidence that you own it.
Once you’ve figured out what type of intellectual property your business has that may be valuable, you can begin the process of applying for registration. The type of intellectual property determines the length and scope of protection that you are entitled to and the process for application. For example, to register your copyright, you would need to pay the applicable registration fees and provide the Intellectual Property Office with certain information, such as the name and mailing address of the owner. In Canada, your copyright exists for the lifetime of the work’s author plus an additional 50 years following the author’s death. Due to upcoming legislative changes, copyright term in Canada will soon be the lifetime of the work’s author, plus an additional 70 years following the author’s death.
While applying for registration will help you protect your intellectual property, we strongly recommend working with an intellectual professional to determine the most effective way for your business to obtain intellectual property rights. As some errors made during the application process cannot be corrected afterwards, an intellectual property professional will ensure that your application for registration of intellectual property is in the best condition possible.
- I’ve registered – what now?
Congrats, you’ve completed an important step in legitimizing your venture! Now that you’ve registered your intellectual property, you might be tempted to move on to the next pressing matter of running your business. However, registering your intellectual property is only one part of an effective intellectual property strategy. Another is enforcing your rights in your intellectual property to prevent competitors from copying your ideas and stealing your customers. You can discourage competitors from infringing your intellectual property by providing notice that you have acquired an intellectual property registration. For example, you can use the ® mark to denote a registered trademark or use the ©, followed by the name of the owner and year of first publication, to denote copyright ownership.
- Re-evaluating your intellectual property strategy
Like with any other aspect of your business, you should conduct an annual review of your intellectual property strategy. It is important to implement a strategy suited to your business needs and goals. For example, you may find that actively enforcing your rights against people who unlawfully copy or use your intellectual property (known as infringers) is too time-consuming and costly. In that case, you may find it easier to assign your rights, such as by a sale of the intellectual property asset to another, which would transfer the right of enforcement to them as well.
On the other hand, if you prefer an offensive strategy, you can actively be on the lookout for intellectual property to acquire. By acquiring a strong portfolio of intellectual property, you can block your competitors and stifle their growth. Revisiting your intellectual property strategy on an annual basis will allow you to determine the value of your intangible assets and ensure your business goals align with your intellectual property strategy and intellectual property portfolio.