Without question, most entrepreneurs do not understand the true value of their company. Yes, we all value our customers, employees, and the products we sell. But, the most overlooked asset for a lot of new companies is intellectual property.
Intellectual property is basically the stuff you've created using your brain. Your list of customers, the things you've posted on social media, the catchy slogan or logo you designed....all of this is the way you're setting yourself apart in the marketplace! Maybe its the customer service script you read when you talk to customers. Perhaps its the really awesome book you wrote that is selling thousands of copies on Amazon.com. It could be fabulous jewelry you're making for men and women to wear. These things are why your customers love you and why you'll make more money than your competition.
I can't state enough the importance of owning your intellectual property. It is so important that Oprah Winfrey has attributed much of her success to owning her own intellectual property (through owning her own show when she first got started). Jeff Jacobs, the president of Harpo, Inc. (Oprah's company) has stated that Harpo is ultimately an "intellectual property company." Do you see where I'm going with this?
Surprisingly, though, a lot of people never take [the relatively] simple steps to ensure that another person or company can't swoop in and take their creations. The goal of this post is to help you identify the intellectual property in your own company so you can take the critical steps to protect yourself and your business!
Re. intellectual property, the most common types are copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets:
Copyright law protects tangible, original works including things like art, poetry, books, movies, songs, videos, computer software, and architecture. Some components of a company’s website might also be included.
Trademark law protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs that you use in the marketplace to distinguish your products and services from your competitors. This might be a logo, word or words, or even a color, scent or sound. Think Nike’s symbol or the word “Apple” for computer products.
Patent law protects inventions that are new and useful. The invention must also not be obvious to others in the field.
Trade secret law encompasses confidential or classified information including formulas, practices, processes, designs, instruments, patterns or compilations of information that give your business an economic advantage over competitors. Think KFC’s fried chicken recipe or Coca-Cola’s formula for coke.
Used right, these areas of law can help you add tons of value (financial and otherwise) to your business. They can also protect you and your business. Think of it this way -- if you'd be pissed that a competitor started using something you created, you probably want to protect it! Protecting your intellectual property could save you a lot of time, headaches and money as your business grows.
Not all types of intellectual property are important for every person or business, but most people are surprised at how much intellectual property their business actually has and how valuable it is.
So how do you know what is relevant for your business? The answer to this question really depends on your circumstances and the type of business you are building. A simple place to start is by asking the following questions:
- What types of original things have I created and written down on paper?
- How do I connect with my customers and how do I distinguish myself from my competitors (via logos, songs, words, slogans, etc.)?
- Have I invented anything new that I haven't seen in the marketplace?
- Are there secret things that give me a competitive advantage with my customers?
Answering these four questions will help you start to identify the intellectual property in your business. You may ultimately need to work with a lawyer to adequately protect them.
Do you think you're overlooking valuable assets in your company? Leave me a comment and let me know what you're wondering about!