Registering your Intellectual Property (IP)

Trademarks – Many new business owners believe they need to file a trademark application right away to protect the name of their business, product, or service. While it’s good practice to trademark the name of the business, product, or service, and potential investors usually like to see that the business owns intellectual property assets, in most cases, it’s something that can be done down the road when the business starts to grow. For most businesses, the likelihood that someone will try to steal their business name is very low. There’s no customer loyalty associated with the name yet, and in some cases, the business will end up changing its name as it tests its product and engages the market. Business owners are often better off waiting until the business has some traction and stability before filing the trademark registration. The time and money can be better spent on building the product and managing the business. That said, certain businesses operate in very competitive environments, and if there is a high risk that a competitor will steal the name of a business, product, or service, then it definitely makes sense to register the name early on as a protective measure.

Copyrights – Unlike filing for a trademark or patent registration, filing a copyright registration in the U.S. is cheap and easy. However, while registering the copyright to a work can provide certain benefits to the owner, copyright registrations are not necessary to own and protect a work. In the U.S., copyright ownership kicks in automatically once the work is put in a tangible form (once the photo is taken, once the lyrics to the song are written down, etc.). Registering a copyright puts others on notice that the individual or company owns that work, and registering is also required in order to file a copyright infringement lawsuit. For freelancers and business owners dealing with a lot of artistic works (freelance photographers, freelance writers, etc.), filing a copyright registration can be a useful way of protecting the business. For freelancers and business owners that don’t trade in a lot of artistic works (management consultants, freelance construction contractors, etc.), filing copyright registrations is less important and in many cases, unnecessary. 

Patents – Filing a patent registration can be very expensive and very time-consuming for most business owners. It can also be a very valuable asset to have and can attract investors and commercial partners. If a business owner believes they have a patentable work, they should talk to a patent lawyer early on to understand whether the work qualifies for a patent registration. If it does, and if the business owner can afford to move forward with the filing, it’s generally a good idea to file right away so no other individuals or companies file for a similar patent first. Also, using or selling a product or service to the general public before filing the patent registration can disqualify the patent registration, so it’s important to consult a patent lawyer as early on as possible.