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How to protect intellectual property

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SmallBusiness.com How-tos are step-by-step instructions for specific small business tasks. They are created and edited by readers like you. You can help edit this How-to or you can create your own. Find more How-tos at the SmallBusiness.com How-to Hub.

Intellectual property is important to your small business. It's your ideas -- and their implementation -- that have gotten you where you are today. But whether you're thinking about a new logo for your business cards, additional content for your website or a slogan to make you stand out from the competition, you'll want to protect those ideas.

Common types of intellectual property marks

  • ©: Indicates a copyright is claimed under the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to "original work of authorship."
  • TM: Indicates a company's intent to protect the mark used by the company related to its products or services.
  • SM: Similar to the TM mark, the service mark differs from a trademark in that the mark is used in regards to a service rather than specific products or the packaging or delivery of the service.

Claiming a copyright for your original works of authorship

  • There is no form to complete or fee to pay.
  • A work must simply have three elements: The © symbol (the word "Copyright" or the abbreviation "Copr." will substitute), the year of first publication and the name of the author or owner.
  • Copyrights last for the author’s life, plus 70 years.
  • Since the United States jointed the Berne Convention in 1989, placing a copyright symbol prominently on your work of authorship, which may include literary works, musical works, sound recordings, motion pictures and even architectural works, is not required. The practice is beneficial to copyright owners, though, as it places the world on notice that the work of authorship is theirs and defeats a defense that a copyright infringer may want to use in the event of litigation.

What to do if you discover others using your intellectual property

If you have found that your intellectual property is being used without your permission, contact an attorney, who will probably draft a simple letter notifying the offending party of the infringement and requesting that it ceases using your trademarked or copyrighted material.

If that does not occur within the time frame you provide the infringer, you may decide to seek legal action.

See also