When people think about starting a business there a few things that usually come to mind: Creating a business plan, finding a location, marketing to customers, and obtaining financing.
However some of the most valuable assets to your business can be those that your customers will never know about, your businesses intellectual property and trade secrets.
Don’t wait until your business is at a comfortable level of success before you take action to protect it against competitors, and in some cases, against your employees themselves.
What about my website? Did you get permission to post other’s original work on your website? How is content on your website written and/or created? Do you have assignments making your business the owner of these works if they were not created by you? The material on your website belongs to the person that created it and is subject to copyright protection at creation. Unless you had and in-house employee create the content or you had the copyright rights transferred in writing, then your business is exposed to losing its web content when the creator wishes it to be removed. Note that a writing with the intent to transfer copyright interests is not the same as effectuating the transfer. You should keep specific files dedicated to documenting the status of your web content. On each page of your website you should indicate the copyright status.
What about your marketing materials? Did you know that promotional and marketing tools are likely covered by copyright protection? If you display and/or distribute flyers to advertise your business and/or services a copyright notice should be displayed on each of those items in order to state your claim of ownership and better ensure that they will not be misused.
What about office procedures and forms? Many businesses develop specific forms, checklists, and itemized lists for accomplishing company goals and/or to pinpoint problems within their business and then solve them. Those various checklists and procedures are usually valuable to your business and could be valuable in the hands of your competitor. The majority of these are covered by copyright. Not only are these items protected by copyright, they may also be your businesses trade secrets. It is important that these be kept confidential and that any of your employees and/or contractors are informed that they should be kept secret and not shared outside of the office. Have employees sign confidentiality agreements that state as such.
Many law firms, and I know from experience whether I was clerking as a law student or working as a contract attorney do not follow their own advice on these items. Not to mention having confidentiality agreements in place regarding the use of client information, these agreements should go a step further and cover the law firms own intellectual property.
There are many things that you should consider when asking, “Are my business assets protected?” Additional ones to consider are your website domain address, and more commonly considered, the business name itself.