Copyrights and trademarks can be a confusing lot for the small business owner. They are considered valuable assets by giant corporations and guarded vehemently. However, small business owners should do the same. Do you guard your intellectual property properly?
A copyright is any artistic or creative material that is produced on a tangible medium. For instance, when you write and post a blog article, you have a copyright on those sentences and the way you present that content. No one can steal your blog post and print it elsewhere, or post it on another website.
Likewise, any printed materials, including catalogues, brochures, white papers, and sales letters, all have an inherited copyright that your business owns. Copyrighted material may also include architectural designs, artwork, original computer graphics, photos, music, etc.
The question often arises whether you need to register your copyrighted material with the US Copyright Office. The answer is you can, but it is not necessary. Registering material does help defend your status as copyright owner should you ever need to. However, you automatically own the copyright the moment it is produced and can defend it as long as you can prove you produced it first.
The question of protection arises when you find someone else using your copyrighted material without your permission. If they are making money from your creative work, then you certainly have a case for a lawsuit. But how do you track and find the culprits? Oftentimes it is just a matter of performing periodic searches through major search engines, or using Copyscape to find out if others are using your work.
Trademarks are another type of intellectual property that small business owners often fail to protect. Trademark protection is governed a little differently than copyrights.
First, a trademark is any type of design, photo, symbols, words, or numbers that identify you or your business and distinguishes you from others. A company logo is a good example.
A trademark can be registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office. Unlike copyrights, unregistered trademarks are generally only defendable in geographic locations.