You, as small business owners, are innovators, job creators, and intellectual property holders. To honor you, May 5-11, 2019 is National Small Business Week in the US. The Small Business Administration recognizes outstanding small businesses across the country and US territories because their contributions strengthen the US economy and its position as a global competitor. For continued success, your small business needs the resources and opportunities to overcome a multitude of challenges.
From the artisan shop on the corner to the tech startup tucked in the back of an office building, most small businesses face common challenges: securing capital, finding healthcare, building the brand, and hiring good people are just a few. In addition, if you’re a small business owner furiously pedaling your big ideas, you must remember to protect those ideas. Don’t allow protecting your intellectual property to be the forgotten challenge that brings you down.
Your Business is Big Enough
Do you think talking about intellectual property is just for the big corporations and the people with Ph.Ds.? Intellectual property simply refers to a collection of ideas and concepts. These have an originator, which means that they belong to someone. IP can come from one person sitting in their kitchen, a group of people collaborating, or a team of inventors working for a pharmaceutical company. The important thing is, once your idea emerges for potential public consumption, you need to make sure it stays yours. If a competitor can take your idea, then they can take your business.
You Have IP Protection Options
These are the three main avenues you can take to ensure the ideas behind your business remain under your control.
- Trade Secret. This is the least formal of your options. You share a process, code, recipe, method, etc. with a few trusted individuals who are morally (and maybe financially, if they are invested in the business) bound to not share your secret. This design, procedure, etc. differentiates you from the competition. If it is released, then your business is at risk. You can set up non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements with your collaborators or workers to provide some official binding.
- Patent. Patenting applies to companies and organizations of all sizes. The patent system was established to ensure fair competition and maintain a healthy economy. Your small business is essential to that end. Obtaining a patent secures your intellectual property rights. It doesn’t necessarily give you the right to produce and market your idea, but it prevents others from producing what you describe in your invention. This is an offensive IP strategy. It is up to you to prove that your idea is novel, non-obvious, and useful. The process is long and expensive, but it provides the most protection for your IP. For more information about patent law and how to obtain a patent, use trusted resources, beginning with the US Patent and Trademark Office. This is an investment in the future of your business that could not only block competitors, but also entice investors or licensors.
- Defensive Publication. Fewer people are familiar with this strategy. Defensive publication enables you to put your idea out in the public domain where others can see that it exists. A published invention description, even an article about your idea or a paper describing the result of a study, acts as prior art. If another inventive body, such as a competitor or a non-practicing entity, produces the same idea and seeks to patent it, they cannot. Your prior art, upon its publication date, removes their ability to prove their proposed invention’s novelty. A solid defensive publication strategy can also help reduce overall patent filing costs, reduce infringement risk, and help you defend against any overly-broad asserted patents that someone else filed after your defensive publication. For all the power defensive publication provides, it is inexpensive, fast, and easy to do. Read up on the facts about defensive publishing. Then, learn how you can get started with the Prior Art Database for both prior art searching and publishing.
You are the Boss
Ultimately, the decision for the best way to protect your intellectual property and your small business is yours. Before you make any decisions, gather information and research the search and publishing tools that are available. If you have questions about defensive publishing, submit them here. Get help navigating the rules and systems and proactively establish your IP position. Your business might be small, for now, but your ideas are always great.