Intellectual Property Tips

By Emily F. Evitt

Here are 10 ways to build a rock-solid foundation for your new company and avoid constructing a masterpiece on top of quicksand:

  1. Make sure your company’s name isn’t already taken. As a starting point, search the name on Google and other Internet search engines. Then search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website (uspto.gov). Important: repeat this process each time you pick the name of a new product or service.
  2. Check if the domain name you want is available – if so, get it. Create Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts for your company, and start using them.
  3. In the U.S., trademark protection begins when you start using your mark in commerce. Thus, launching and publicizing your company is a higher priority than trademark registration.
  4. Registering trademarks with the USPTO is advisable, but if you have limited resources rely on common law trademark rights in the short term – you get these automatically from using your mark with no registration required.
  5. Copyright doesn’t just protect music and movies, it also covers other creative works of authorship – including software.
  6. When you create content, you automatically receive copyright protection just by writing it down. But before bringing a lawsuit, you’ll have to register, and doing so early will allow you to recover additional penalties in litigation.
  7. It’s a common misconception that you can avoid copyright infringement by taking someone’s work and changing a few things – that’s wrong so don’t do it.
  8. If your company’s website hosts user-uploaded content, implement a notice-and-takedown policy under the DMCA for potentially infringing content. These policies have detailed requirements – ask a lawyer for help.
  9. Don’t solicit ideas for your company from the general public. Keep a written record of all individuals who pitch product ideas to your company, and then send and retain rejection letters. Maintain records of your company’s own development. If you accept ideas from outside sources, make sure to use a submission agreement.
  10. If you acquire intellectual property from an outside source, have a lawyer: (a) confirm the source actually owns the IP rights; (b) assure transfer of the IP rights in writing; and (c) review the contract.

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