Intellectual property and your new business: Questions you should be asking to ensure you're protected.
There are many things to think about when you’re starting a new business. In addition to the financial, marketing and other business matters, there are important intellectual property concerns that should be addressed up front. If you wait until you have more money or time, it may be too late. Your most valuable business assets could be lost.
What is intellectual property?
Intellectual property, or “IP,” includes patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. These are forms of intangible property that protect creativity and innovation, and can be the basis for customers choosing your products and services instead of your competitors'.
What IP questions should you ask before you get started?
First you need a name, and it should be a good name. That means one that’s not too close to someone else’s, but enforceable against copiers. And you should be able to get the same name for your website. Registering your business or fictitious name with Sunbiz or with a domain registry won’t shield you from liability for trademark infringement if the name or logo is likely to be confused with someone else’s, even if the other name isn’t a registered trademark.
The content of your website, both words and pictures, is protectable by copyright. But whose copyright? If you didn’t write the content or create the images, where did they come from? Have you gotten permission or an assignment from the copyright owner? Among the most common IP cases are those where website owners are accused of making unauthorized use of images on their sites. Just because the image was on the internet doesn’t mean you can use it without permission. Even if you remove it, you can still be sued in federal court for copyright infringement, even if you didn’t know it was copyrighted.
Have you made sure that you, and not your web designer, own the content and the domain name? If you part ways, can you be sure your site will remain active and under your control, and that a disgruntled vendor can’t shut it down?
Does your business involve a device or method, or an original product design? If so, you may qualify for patent protection. Patents aren’t just for secret formulas or complex machines. They can cover wake board towers, a new kind of bra, or a business method. A patent prevents others from making, using, selling, or importing products covered by the patent for twenty years, giving you a legal monopoly and a competitive advantage. But if you wait too long to file, you can lose your chance of getting a patent forever.
Am I protected globally?
In short, no. Other than copyrights, which are protected by international treaties, trademarks and patents must be registered in every country where you want protection. Your U.S. patent doesn’t give you the right to pursue an infringer in China unless you own a patent there.
These are some of the types of IP questions you should be asking when you are contemplating starting a business. Our law firm can assist you with these, as well as with any other questions you may have about who owns your IP, how to protect it and what to do if you get sued for infringement.
Ava Doppelt is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Intellectual Property Law and is a managing partner with Allen, Dyer, Doppelt + Gilchrist, PA in Orlando, Florida. For a consultation regarding your IP needs, contact ADD+G at 407-841-2330 or visit allendyer.com.