You checked off most of the things on your business start=up checklist. You obtained the required licenses and permits, signed the leases, and launched a website. Yet, there may be one aspect of your business you have overlooked, and it has the potential to increase your income and legal protection. No matter your business, chances are you will benefit by protecting your company’s intellectual property rights. If you one day sell your business, maintaining legal protection over your company’s intellectual property can be a strong selling point, and may increase your sale price.

Intellectual property is an umbrella term that includes patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade names. While patents and copyrights are governed by federal law, trade name protection is offered only through state law. Trademarks are largely governed by federal law as well, although in some cases, state law on trademarks still applies. The following is a brief overview of intellectual property protection.

Protecting Intellectual Property Rights Through Patents

If your business relies on a product you invented or designed, you need to review the issue of protecting intellectual property rights to make sure you maximize your profits. Patents keep other people, for a limited amount of time, from making or selling your invention without your permission. There are two types of patents: design patents and utility patents. Design patents, as the name suggests, protect the “look” of your invention, and are valid for 14 years. Utility patents protect your invention and its function. Utility patents are valid for 20 years. There are, however, some things which cannot be patented.

Protecting Intellectual Property Rights Through Copyrights

Copyright protects creations such as works of art, literature, film, and music. Copyright is automatic upon the completion of a work. However, if at some later point you need to assert your rights in court, you would want to register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. A copyright is a valuable way to capitalize on your protection to make other merchandise, and thereby increase your income. For example, if you create a work of art, you could use the image on t-shirts and mugs. As with patents, there are some things that are not copyrightable. For example, you cannot copyright an idea. Rather, you can only copyright the expression of that idea.

Protecting Intellectual Property Rights Using Trademarks

Trademarks protect symbols, designs, names and phrases used to identify your business and distinguish it from other businesses. They also help customers identify the sources of your goods. Federal trademarks are available if you are doing business across several states or in other countries. This is called interstate commerce. The state of California also provides state trademark protection. While both methods can be used to protect your trademark, federal registration is better, as it will offer protection in all states. State registration will only apply in the registering state.

If you are unsure which of these three types of intellectual property apply, it is helpful to consult an attorney for making that initial determination.

Non-Attorney Assistance for Business Start-up

If you are trying to start a business and would like help filling out the necessary forms for state registration, or for other permits, contact A People’s Choice for quality, affordable, non-attorney assistance. A People’s Choice has been providing self-help legal document services for over 35 years and has established an excellent reputation in the community.  When you are ready to go ahead with your paperwork, information can be provided to us through our convenient online system, over the phone or in person.

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