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OK, so what can be protected?

  • Business Plans
  • Customer lists
  • Know-how
  • Products ideas
  • Marketing ideas
  • Secret formulas

Along with the Business books listed in the Amazon links to the right, we have selected a few Patent and Copyright books for you to consider.
Intellectual assets can be protected by making a secret formula, secret.

Non Disclosure Agreement's (NDA's) can help to protect your company.
Require everyone to sign an agreement. Inside the company "Employee agreements" and policy manuals are necessary.

Outside of the company an NDA is needed.
All employees must wear a corporate badge.
All confidential documents will be marked as such.
All disposals of documents will have a procedure ensuring the proper destruction of the documents.
When an employee leaves the employ of the company make sure sensitive information that was at their disposal is protected.
Reading of corporate policy manuals must be required and documented.
Reverse engineering of a formula is hard to protect.
A decision needs to be made as to whether to protect the trade secret or if other forms of protection like patents be used.
Patents and trade secrets are different.
A patent is fully disclosed and a trade secret is hidden.
A patent has a life of 20 years. Coke® has had its trade secret for over 100 years.
A trade secret is forever.
Reverse engineering does not get you around a patent but it can get around a trade secret.
A big consideration is, can I keep it a secret?
Copyrights cover any written expressions, artistic expressions and images.
If it is artistic, it is covered by copyright. Ideas and expressions are covered by copyrights.
How do you protect a copyright and when does a copyright exist?
It exists as soon as it is created and fixed in tangible form.
A better form of protection is to acquire a federal registration for your copyright.
Does a copyright expire?
It is currently set at 75 years after the death of the author.
It is generally understood that a copyright automatically protects your created image, artwork, article or book when it is created.
If you put your name on your goods or service it is considered a Trade Mark - a mark, symbol, or design that designates the origin of your goods or services.
Some well known (TM)s are Chevrolet®, Corvette®, Nike Swoosh®, Pink Insulation®, and McDonalds Golden Arches®.
(TM) gives you the ability to differentiate yourself from your competition.
The first step in protecting your (TM) is to search your mark yourself at www.uspto.gov
Find the (TM) section and do what is considered a "preliminary search".
To be sure your (TM) does not infringe on another mark, have a competent attorney do a "clearance" search for you to make sure the mark is available.
You should then file a federal registration to protect the mark. A circle ® indicates that you have a federal registration number.
You can use the (TM) symbol (TM), or service mark symbol (SM) to alert the public to your claim on the design but placing the ® next to your (TM) without a federal registration is illegal and you can be charged a big fine or jail time. The first person to receive a federal mark ® is the owner of that mark across the country.
If you are using a (TM) symbol (TM) in your state, then you are protected in your state but maybe not on the other side of the country.
Even if you register your mark federally, you can be blocked from using your registered mark in a state where someone with the same or similar mark is conducting business.
The registration process includes selecting the class - look at existing marks or similar goods or services that may look like your proposed mark.
The examiner looks to see if your mark is unique enough to (TM)
Select a specimen - the (TM) you have been using as a symbol (TM) and submit it.
The examiner may respond by contacting you or publishing your mark to if there is any opposition, problems or any likely confusion in the mark related to other possible infringements that you need to fix. Secondary meaning could construe that you are infringing on another non-direct competitor.
McDonalds® has secondary meaning so you would not be able to register a hotel name like McSleep as the name of your hotel.
After US issuance, you have 6 months to protect your (TM) with a foreign filing.
Arbitrary marks are better protected marks and are more likely to be approved. Apple Computers® is a unique mark and the name does not suggest what the product is.
You will have difficulty if you try to register a name like "Unique-computers Inc" which is a descriptive (TM).
It is often a better business decision to use a unique name for your business like GOOGLE® did.
A name like "Searchhere.com" would not work as well and would likely be thrown out in the (TM) registration process.
Always make your (TM) decision with the help of your attorney.
Try to choose a mark that hints at suggestive but is not entirely descriptive. It is hard to protect a mark like "Home Builders Inc." as it is descriptive and generic.
Trade Dress covers the appearance of your business. You have to use the trade dress for a period of time before you can register it.
Harley® motorcycles tried to (TM) the sound of its exhaust and could not (TM). Color blend, employee uniforms, interior colors and layouts can be considered trade dress.
Patents are a government grant of a limited monopoly given for a new invention. Patents are granted to encourage new business and innovation and are provided for in the Constitution.
An invention is patentable when it is new, useful and not obvious.
It has to be a man made construct, or method and unique and you must be the inventor.
15 years ago software was not patentable and it now is. Business methods are now patentable. Amazon.com® patented their "One-Click" shopping cart.
The business method needs to be tied to technology and a good attorney will need to help you with this process.
Different types of patents include a "provisional patent" is an informal version, does not need to meet all the requirements of a formal patent.
It does give you "patent pending" status, and it is good for one year.
You will be required to be working toward the patent completion process to keep the provisional patent active and protected.
A "utility Patent" is a standard basic patent that covers the concept, methods or design.
A Design patent only covers the appearance of the patent and nothing beyond the appearance.
Design Patents are cheaper and easier to get. Foreign Patents give you a year after you file your US patent to file for them.
You can ask for an extension and your attorney can council you on the extension.
Companies fail when they do not properly document the start of the invention.
Mailing a letter to yourself does not offer you protection.
Keep an inventors notebook where you and another person sign and date each page during the progress of your invention.
Always keep your ideas confidential. If you do hire an independent contractor, make sure you have a "work for hire" agreement along with "Non disclosure" and "non-compete" agreements.
Take the proper trade secret procedures and mark your IP as discussed earlier. Always protect your IP with federal applications.
Foreign applications for protections have very strict time limits and procedures and your idea needs to be protected with a foreign patent before you show your product anywhere.
If you plan on or have shown or sold your product before it is properly protected, make sure you call an attorney immediately to protect your idea.
This gives your attorney a better chance of protecting your idea by correcting your mistake. Make sure that you take steps to avoid infringement with your ideas.
This can be costly if you bring a product to market and you haven't researched to see if you might be infringing on another persons patent or IP.
If you are concerned that someone is infringing on your patent or that you might be infringing on someone else's patent, don't sweep it under the rug - correct the issue as soon as possible.
Utilize your IP extensively to maximize your profit streams.
Licensing your IP is a quick way to turn your ideas into an income. All contracts need to be written and reviewed by your attorney.
Don't be afraid to enforce your IP protection rights. Maintain your rights and go after anyone who infringes on your product or IP.