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Protecting Your Next Big Idea: 5 Mistakes Entrepreneurs and Businesses Make (and How to Avoid Them)
As changes to U.S. patent law alter the balance of who can benefit from new inventions, now more than ever small businesses need to take the steps to protect what it is they create.
The Senate passed the America Invents Act in late 2011. It moves the U.S. from a first-inventor system to one in which the first filer of a patent is most likely to reap rewards. Wait too long to file, the inventor's advantage is lost.
"Entrepreneurs spend much time and money to develop new inventions and brands, but then they omit taking the necessary steps to protect their investment," said Michael A. Shimokaji, a California attorney.
Shimokaji is also consultant to Rocket Lawyer, one company that provides online legal resources to small businesses and individuals. With their help, let's take a look at five ways that small-business owners can protect themselves from common Intellectual Property (IP) missteps, starting with patents under the new U.S. rules.
Small businesses that invent or improve processes, machines, and manufactured things can't afford to wait when it comes to filing a provisional patent application. After that, don't wait to file complete non-provisional paperwork with the U.S. Patent Office. File the full application within one year.
Just about everything you write is automatically covered under U.S. copyright law. Still, don't neglect to mark what you make with a copyright symbol (©). And don't let infringers slide. Run searches for your written work. Be prepared to issue cease-and-desist notices, if you find it's being used.
3. Trade Secrets
Prevent inside-info leaks. Do not be shy about creating non-disclosure agreements with vendors, employees, and contractors.
Don't neglect to trademark your business's name and logo. Think of these as your public face and calling card, combined. If you've properly filed yours and you find that another company uses them, don't hesitate to send that business owner a trademark-violation letter.
Finally, a bottom line when it comes to all of this: practice careful record-keeping. Failing to keep records and minutes of the work that goes into your company's intellectual property is failing to prepare. You need hard-copy proof should you have to defend it, now or later on.