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Top 7 Ways to Protect Your Intellectual Property: Responsible Strategies to Secure Your Big Ideas

intellectual property (IP) guide
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Do you hear what we hear? Listen: the online creative economy is buzzing—filled with course creators, coaches, consultants, creatives, freelancers, and more. The outcome of their work is often digital and intangible and includes inventions, writing, music, designs, and other creative works. This virtual content is produced by human intelligence and is the intellectual property of the person or people who created it. This content is gold. A little louder, for the people in the back: this content is GOLD and it needs to be protected.

Online business owners in the know have legally protected intellectual property rights. In this article, we’ll deliver the scoop on the top 7 ways to protect your own intellectual property. We cannot stress enough how vital it is for you to legally protect what you create.

YOUR👏WORK👏IS👏WORTH👏IT!

Do you need help to uplevel your business savvy? Enlist a trusted ally; a godfairy, if you will. We love disruptors, game-changers, and world-shakers. In fact, we exist to help people like you get to the next level. Learn more about working with us.

What is Intellectual Property?

We’re glad you asked. Grab a drink, get comfy and settle in. ☕️

Intellectual property (IP) is a broad categorization that includes the following:

  1. Trademarks — When you have found the pitch-perfect tagline or phrase — or wish to distinguish a name, title, or mark — trademarking may be the way to go. Trademarks are also issued by the U.S. government. You can apply for a trademark online, for a fee.
  1. Copyrights — Copyrights are a type of intellectual material that protect original works such as photographs, paintings, blog posts, books, poems, sound recordings, computer programs, illustrations, and more. Copyright works must be original and fixed, meaning they are permanent enough to be “perceived, reproduced, or communicated for more than a short time.” Copyright.gov is the place to learn more about copyrighting.
  1. Patents — Many things can be patented, including machine-made items, machines themselves, and processes. While not the most common pursuit for an online business owner, if you do have an item to patent, you will apply for a patent through the United States Patent and Trademark Office, disclosing the details of your invention.
  1. Trade secrets — Trade secrets don’t require an official designation, but they may be one of your most valuable IP assets. Trade secrets can be protected by federal law, and need to meet certain criteria, including having independent economic value (by virtue of not being generally known), be unobtainable through other sources, and -duh- be secret.

Whether or not you’ve pursued official delineations like copyrights or trademarks, your creative business baby should be legally protected from theft or misuse. Online business owners who write, design, and create are the rightful owners of their work—and they’re proud of it, gosh darn it!

Why It’s Important to Protect Your IP

Here’s the rundown: even if you are a solopreneur with a highly specialized business, you should take steps to protect your intellectual property. Online businesses of any size must implement reliable safeguards. There are a few compelling reasons to do so:

  • The uniqueness of a business’s products and services directly impacts revenue and market share. Losing market share early can undercut profitability in the long run. Whatever your long-term business goals are, they will not be achievable if you do not protect your intellectual property.
  • The online marketplace is immense. Differentiators between competing freelancers, creatives, coaches, and operators in any business may be razor-thin. Those distinctions must be identified and protected to mitigate the risk of copycats or lookalikes.
  • Intellectual property protection fosters innovation by ensuring that creators reap the full benefits of what they produce.
Why It’s Important to Protect Your Intellectual property

How to Protect Intellectual Property

Okay, so we’ve covered the basics, but our amazing clients reach out because they need tactical assistance. What they want to know is, “how do I protect my intellectual property?” 

While some of these IP tips will deal with official steps — such as trademarking and copyrighting — there are also some operational and procedural considerations we hope you’ll take seriously.

Here are the ways you can, and should, protect all that magic you produce, sis.✨

1. Trademark It

Celebs build entire trademark portfolios to register names, nicknames, brand names, catchphrases, baby names, and more. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be Beyoncé to have an idea you wish to trademark. It is possible to trademark a phrase, symbol, or design. “Design” can include the mark of a specific product or service.

To trademark something for your online business, you have to go through four steps: application, examination, publication, and registration. There are online materials at the USPTO website and online trademark tools that can help.

Essentially, trademarking protects your brand identity by making it unlawful for competitors or anyone else to imitate your trademarked material. Poseurs be-gone!🙅‍♀️

2. Copyright It

Copyright protects original works of authorship. Any original authorship that is on your website, blog, digital platforms, or in print can be protected by copyright. It does have to meet some criteria: for instance, a recipe or list of ingredients would not be protected by copyright law. However, anything that represents formulas or “substantial literary expression” may be eligible for copyright protection.

Note that copyright law does not protect brand names, slogans, short phrases, names, or titles — those all can be trademarked. You also cannot protect a domain name or idea through copyright.

To copyright content, you will register content with the U.S. Copyright Office, either by mail or digitally. Once it is registered, the work is added to the Library of Congress. Voila. That’s a wrap on copyright.

Just kidding. We do have a second note on this one, specifically answering a common question among life coaches and consultants: you do not have to publish your work for copyright protection. Anything you own that fits the description of materials may be protected by copyright law. Okay, now THAT’S a wrap on copyright. Next!

3. Have a Strong Non-Disclosure Agreement

In any stage of business development, growing online companies will enlist the help of experts, freelancers, and team members. It is usually a good sign if you need specialists or extra hands, but, alas, there is another side to the coin. All online business owners should have non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, that are signed by the people with whom they work.

Don’t underestimate the value of what you are doing in the marketplace. Your innovative ideas, your novel approaches, and your unique processes are all valuable. Protect them by ensuring that a potential business partner or freelancer doesn’t steal your trade secrets (aka your secret sauce!) or hop over to the next client with your how-tos and guides. It’s all too easy for people to forget how common this is in digital-first businesses. You can trust us on this one: it happens all of the time. Without an NDA, you have virtually no recourse. With an NDA, you can protect all of your bright ideas.💫 

Our Non-Disclosure Agreement Template protects all of your valuable proprietary information and trade knowledge. Purchase, download, and use this legal agreement to ensure your relationships with business partners, independent contractors, and new employees don’t open you up to devastating loss.

4. Control Access to Proprietary Information

Still with us? Need more coffee? ☕️ Have at it. This next one’s important. 

With so many business owners using cloud-based solutions, this is a mission-critical aspect of intellectual property protection. We’re often surprised at the number of online biz owners who don’t have a standard for access, or even password sharing. In addition to being a cybersecurity risk, this also means that staff and even freelancers may have access to proprietary information. Not cool. Let’s get you sorted, sis. 

In the U.S. legal code, it is only a crime for federal employees to disclose confidential information. State laws may apply that restrict the unauthorized disclosure of trade secrets, or proprietary information. Your goal should be to implement processes that ensure your proprietary information is not shared with low-level employees or anyone you do not trust. If you need to defend a breach, seek legal counsel. Like, yesterday. 

Luckily, there are ways to protect the data you store online. Here are some effective go-tos:

  • Write a confidentiality policy and use an NDA.
  • Train your team on how to use data and file sharing systems.
  • Use third-party, anonymized password sharing apps to give access to company-owned digital properties.
  • Only host proprietary information on secure servers and domain-owned databases.
  • Restrict digital file sharing down to the folder level so there is minimal risk of oversharing access.

When in doubt about your policies, or the enforceability of terms you set with employees, get legal advice, pronto. 

5. Speak With an IP Legal Professional

Legal professionals who specialize in intellectual property law are your most reliable source of information. If you have questions about your intellectual property rights or the laws about intellectual property that apply to you, we urge you to contact legal counsel. Do not rely solely on what you find on the internet. The very future of your company may depend on the steps you take to protect what is rightfully yours. 

6. Make Sure You Own It

We love the internet as much as the next gal, but the lines of intellectual property ownership can become blurry in an online entrepreneurship space that favors collaboration, cross-disciplinary teams, and shared projects. While this community-orientation is part of the fun of running an online business, it can make it difficult to clearly define who owns what, in terms of intellectual property. And, while that’s not a fun conversation to have, it’s an important one.

There are two ways to establish ownership of intellectual property: sole ownership or joint ownership. You should know, and be in a legally binding agreement with, any parties with whom you co-own intellectual property. It may seem like overkill to do this for an eBook or logo design, but you will never regret making the boundary lines clear. Now there’s some solid relationship advice too (you’re welcome).

In addition to those with whom you create, you must be clear about who owns what when people are creating things for you. White labeling is a title that can apply to everything from a ghostwriter to a product designer. It is a very common practice to hire people to create things for you, and one you should be prepared for contractually with an IP ownership clause.

At the end of the day, all of these efforts are undertaken to avoid legal entanglement, which is a lot less fun than romantic entanglement. Trust us, we’ve done the research. Unfortunately, you should be prepared to take action if IP infringement does occur.

7. Be Prepared to Take Legal Action  

Let’s face it. Nobody wants to take civil action. It’s unpleasant. But if IP infringement occurs in your business, you must be prepared to do so, brave soul. Your brand identity and reputation, as well as your professional career, are high stakes. You must carefully weigh whether taking legal action will be worth the expense. Sometimes, it will be. If it is, don’t be afraid to make a move that protects your brand, assets, and well-being.

Be Prepared to Take Legal Action over IP Infringement

Protect Your IP With The Legal Godfairy

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: you can skip leg day, but don’t skip taking care of your intellectual property. Your years of industry insight, trade knowledge, and process development are all vulnerable without legally binding protection. You have worked so hard to get where you are. If this is an area in which you know you need to be better prepared, visit our shop for templates

Everything we provide is lawyer-drafted, peer-reviewed, and easily customizable. We also offer lifetime access to all updates, so this document will not lose value if protocols change. Your work is worth protecting, and we’re happy to help you achieve your goals.

After all, we’re in this together.✨

*Disclaimer: This blog post has been prepared solely for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to provide, nor should it be relied on for, legal advice. Should you require advice regarding a specific matter, appropriate legal or other professional advice should be obtained.

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