Small businesses often operate with limited funds, employees, and time. Protecting your products, processes, and branding can seem less important than day-to-day operations. However, your small business’ intellectual property is one of its most important assets. Navigating the unique challenges that come with protecting it is essential to the success of your small business.
Challenge 1: Understanding Scope
Intellectual property is not just the products you sell. Your products, processes, branding, packaging, website domain and content, and other “creations of the mind” relevant to your business are all IP. These elements of your business are valuable and worth protecting. When considering which IP to legally protect, consider what your small business could afford to lose to competitors. If the answer is nothing, it’s time to explore and understand all of your small business intellectual property protection options. They include trademarks, patents, trade secrets, and defensive publications.
Challenge 2: Moving Quickly
Your small business is competing in a first-to-file world. The first inventor to disclose their technology, either through a patent application or defensive publication, gains the competitive advantage. Small businesses may not have the resources to file a strong patent application quickly. Defensive publications offer a fast, cost-effective, and versatile alternative. Although you won’t have patent protection for your product, service, or process, your competitors will no longer be able to secure a patent for the same technology thanks to your prior art.
Challenge 3: Thinking Big
Your business may feel small right now, but never discount its potential. Some protections for small business intellectual property are available on the state level, such as a statewide trademark. However, registering your trademark on a national or even international scale gives you protection as your business grows and your customer base expands. As digital sales through social media, ecommerce websites, and other online channels increase, you may find yourself expanding your geographic reach faster than you anticipated.
Challenge 4: Investing in Professionals
Small business intellectual property is challenging. There are many obstacles best navigated by an IP professional. Turning to an expert may seem frivolous as a small business with limited resources. However, it’s not nearly as expensive as failing to protect your IP. Losing your competitive advantage in a crowded market is likely more detrimental to your business than a large organization. These entities can absorb the costs of infringement, which range from lost revenue to legal battles, while you may not be able to.