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Intellectual Property (IP) is the term given to intangible assets that have a value such as brand names, internet domain names, written materials, artwork and the like.

 Depending on the nature of your business, these can have considerable value and add a lot to your wealth.  Consider the value of the Coca Cola brand and the domain name google.com for example.

 It therefore makes a lot of sense to take steps to protect this part of your wealth from theft and exploitation.

 Even if you don’t think your brand will be too valuable, you would be wise to protect it so that, later, you can sell it as part of your business.  It’s very hard to predict how things will go in the future.  It happens that even substantial companies have not protected their brand name and domain name in other countries and have been forced to buy them back at inflated rates when they move into that country.

There are IP specialist lawyers but you may not need them early on.  You may be able to take the first steps yourself. 

 Trademarks

Brand names are protected with trademarks.  There is an internationally recognized  framework for these.

They sound a bit formidable but many government IP organizations around the world have made it very simple for amateurs to apply.  Once you have a Trademark in your own country, you get advanced standing in other countries as well.  When you apply there, you can get backdated to your original one.  All the EU countries are obtainable at once this way.

One thing to remember is that you need to be very careful defining your trademark as you might have to have several attempts if you your application is judged to be too similar to another existing trademark.  We once tried to get the trademark “Mentor” for a consulting company but couldn’t because it was judged too similar to a sock company.  Go figure!

One trick you might consider for ideas is to look up the Trademark definitions of similar businesses and pick out the main features of their application to add to yours.  They might have paid lawyers a lot for advice that you can get for free.

 Domain Names

Internet domain names are easy to buy.  It is strongly suggested that you also buy the same name in all the major countries  that you are likely to trade in to stop someone else taking your name.  You should especially aim to get the “.com” domain as it is a de facto world standard.  Sometimes you will find the names already taken in some countries by people buying them for resale.  You might be able to prevent this if you have a Trademark the same as a domain name but it is a difficult process.

This is one of the reasons so many internet companies today have odd names without any meaning.  It is one way of getting a domain name that is not already taken.

Even if you don’t have a web site yet, you should buy your domain name at the same time as you Trademark your brand name.  Once a domain name is gone, you can’t get it later; unless you are prepared to pay a lot for it.

You might also consider picking up domain names with similar spelling if it seems relevant.  The word “speedy” for example might be spelt “speedi” or “speedie” by some users or by a claim jumper wanting to get some of your traffic who mistakenly type in the misspelt name.

You can use the search services of big domain name registrars like GoDaddy to see if the domain name you want is still available.  Even if, for example, the .com name has gone, you might be able to get the .biz version

Remember, the domain name that you want may be protected by a Trademark held by another party.  It is a good idea to do a free online Trademark search for the domain name to see if it is covered.  If it is, you are taking a risk that you will later have to cease using that domain name.

 Copyright

Copyright is a right of ownership given to the creators of original works.  It might apply to website design, photography, art work and written materials like books and brochures.

It is a general principle that Copyright applies automatically to the creator of the work.  If you are the creator, you have that right.

If you are not the creator but are the user of the materials, you should consider getting a release from the creator that gives you all rights to the work.  This will avoid them coming back later and claiming the work is theirs and perhaps charging you again for the job.  

Resources

The government Intellectual Property organizations often have training material and assistance services for small businesses that can be of help.

Wikipedia:  Intellectual property  Copyright Trademarks

 

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