By Lisa Honey – Contributing BusinessJournals.com Writer,Jun 17, 2014, 11:56am
The two most coveted resources for any small business owner are time and money. Protecting non-cash assets also ranks high on the list, except when intellectual property (IP) is at stake.
Many small and mid-sized businesses run in the other direction for a number of reasons when it comes to IP issues, which conjure images of expensive lawyers, government bureaucracy, and lengthy, tedious applications.
Unfortunately, IP ignorance is not bliss. In a hyper-competitive market with ever-fluctuating regulations, understanding intellectual property is more critical than ever.
Here are five reasons it’s worth it to invest a little time and money now to protect your ideas:
1. Test the waters.
You wouldn’t shell out money for a new car before test-driving it – and you can apply the same precaution to the patent process. Take your idea out for spin to learn if you can successfully take your invention to market.
One tool is a provisional patent – an abridged application that safeguards the filing date but allows one year to file the full non-provisional application. The perk of the provisional application is time to research the market and prepare a full application. It allows you to decide if it’s worth the investment to seek a full patent.
2. It’s never been easier.
Many small companies choose not to seek IP protection due to the significant costs. However, a new classification of SMBs and the rise of electronic filing systems have helped lower costs and expedite the process. Recent changes in IP law, namely the 2011 America Invents Act (AIA), have further streamlined the process. The U.S. system has shifted from “first-to-invent” to “ first inventor-to-file” in an attempt to reward entrepreneurs for protecting IP.
3. You’ll save money and effort.
Why leave your intellectual accomplishments unclaimed? Federal law recognizes and protects your ownership of personal property and real estate. Similarly, the law is designed to protect your right to exclusively control your ideas and intangible assets. This helps ensure that you will profit from your work without fear of exploitation by competitors or inadvertent copycats.
4. You can take it global.
Globalization has made it critically important for small businesses to pursue and protect their IP rights, both domestically and abroad.
Due to IP policy changes you now have the option to go global. You can file separate, simultaneous applications in every country you want to protect your invention. For some countries, regional patents are available. It’s always advisable to start in countries with the best market prospects and chance of commercial success.
You also have the option to file through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). This enables you to electronically file one simple, streamlined international application. It allows you to simultaneously seek legal protection for an invention in 148 countries.
5. If you don’t, someone else will.
One of the most important reasons to protect your work is competition – legitimate or predatory. Someone else may successfully be the “first to file” and strip your ability to profit from the invention in question. You may also get “trolled.” These patent, trademark, and copyright trolls focus solely on stockpiling IP created by legitimate businesses. Then they strong-arming alleged infringers into legal settlements. They know few SMB owners can afford years of costly patent litigation – and they exploit this reality, to the tune of up to $50 billion a year in the U.S. alone.
So, take control of your great idea and own it outright. You insure your most important assets, such as your home, business, and health. It’s equally important to protect your ideas.