For Entrepreneurs: How to Protect Your Intellectual Property

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In a digitally connected world, ideas are easy to share, distribute and, unfortunately, even steal.

By definition, an entrepreneur is a person who "runs a small business and assumes all the risk and reward of a given business venture, idea, or good or service offered for sale. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as a business leader and innovator of new ideas and business processes."

When the success of your business depends on the unique brand, ideas and assets you develop, the need to protect your ideas is essential. Without adequate protection and due diligence, you leave the fate of your business venture and profitability up to chance.

Ensuring your financial success and a competitive edge starts with protecting your intellectual property (IP).

IP consists of the unique items a business creates for economic benefit. These may include inventions, original works of authorship, content, designs and trade secrets.

There are different, yet essential, ways to protect IP. As you start your business, think through what it will take to maintain the originality (and profitability) of your work.

3 Ways to Protect Your Intellectual Property

1. Apply for Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks.

There are three primary ways to protect your IP rights. When put into laymen's terms, each right can be defined by the following:

  • Trademarks protect phrases, slogans, symbols, or designs that distinguish goods and services from those offered by others.
  • Patents protect inventions or discoveries of new processes that offer useful improvements, including utility, design and plant patents.
  • Copyrights protect artistic and literary works, both published and unpublished.

If you leave your IP unprotected, you run the risk of exposing your current and future potential profit to significant loss. Protecting your ideas is critical to fostering innovation and growth of your business.

Be sure to file for patents, copyrights and trademarks as needed, and as fast as possible. A patent application, for example, holds your place in line and U.S. patents can take more than five years to finalize, according to Inc. magazine.

2. Establish Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).

Take time to institute well-written NDAs from the beginning. This may include employment agreements including licenses, sales contracts and technology transfer agreements. Each of these will protect your business' intellectual property from the moment you share sensitive information with new or outside parties, according to Inc. magazine.

It's crucial to hold all employees, stakeholders, partners and other important parties accountable for signed NDAs, as well as content related to those confidential conversations and exchanging of information.

3. Select Intellectual Property Insurance.

Invest in IP insurance, which will protect your business from copyright, trademark or patent infringement claims. By working closely with your insurer to overview your confidentiality needs, you will uncover risks you otherwise didn't know existed. Evaluating your commercial intellectual property needs with a professional will help your business remain fully covered.

Consult with your trusted insurance partner and legal counselor to ensure both teams are knowledgeable of your owned IP assets and how they are protected. Serious consideration should be given to evaluating how you will protect your business against IP losses--your ideas are the fuel to your success.

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Note: A version of this article originally appeared on INGUARD.com.