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Businesses complain about it all the time: having to defend themselves against patent trolls and frivolous litigation. But many business owners are still in the dark about what exactly a patent troll is, how they operate, and why small businesses should be worried about them.

Patent trolls don't only go after giant corporations like Apple and White Castle. They can also stop a startup in its tracks. So here is how patent trolls work and how you can protect your small business.

Whether in your advertising or in your shop decor, you may want to use a striking image or fantastic photo that you found. But be careful: the image may be copyrighted, and without a license to use the image, you may be committing copyright infringement.

"But," you say, "copyright licenses can be expensive, and my business doesn't make that much, and besides no one will probably know." All fair points, but none a proper legal defense. So here are some ideas if you want to use images but can't afford licensing fees:

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," or so they say. But when a giant retailer copies your t-shirt design, is that flattery or actual copyright infringement?

Work-at-home fashion designer Melissa Lay discovered Target is selling a nearly identical tank top to one that she printed in her garage for her Etsy store. She admits she didn't copyright the design, but could she still have a claim?

Today's employees are a fickle bunch. They come and they go. Sometimes they go taking a little bit more with them than when they came.

It is not uncommon for businesses to hire employees away from their competitors. Losing an employee hurts because you'll have to do interviews, find another employee, and then train them all over again. But, losing an employee can hurt even more if that ex-employee is using your trade secrets to steal your clients or copy your products and technology.

So, what can you do if an ex-employee is using your trade secrets?

Jack Daniel's has long been one of the most aggressive companies when it comes to defending its brand. Most recently, it successfully defended a state law that legally defined "Tennessee whiskey" -- a phrase featured prominently on Jack Daniel's bottles -- as charcoal-filtered, corn-based whiskey aged in new barrels -- a process almost unique to the Jack Daniel's distillery.

And while proactively defending the distinguishing trademarks and characteristics of your business is admirable (and sometimes necessary), some companies have been known to go overboard, and garner some negative attention. So how do you find the right balance when protecting your business image?

Taylor Swift is trademarking her lyrics. A bunch of athletes are trademarking their names and catch phrases. Maybe you've wondered whether your business needs to register a trademark.

If your answer to that question is yes, you've come to the right place. Here's a quick guide on how to register a business trademark.

What Is Trademark Tacking?

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday decided in Hana Financial, Inc. v. Hana Bank that the issue of "trademark tacking" was a question for a jury, not a judge.

We all know (hopefully) what a trademark is, but what is "trademark tacking"?

Yesterday, news broke that Northern California brewery Lagunitas was suing Sierra Nevada, the other big maker of craft beers in Northern California. The controversy centered on the design and use of the letters "IPA" in the labels for both breweries' India Pale Ales. Lagunitas claimed that Sierra Nevada's design infringed on a trademark for its particular use of "IPA."

Today, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Lagunitas' founder announced over Twitter that he was dropping the suit after some harsh public criticism.

What can businesses learn from Lagunitas' mini-controversy?

Young Girls' Invention Gets Them Sued for $1M

A pair of young sisters was amazed when their nifty little invention -- a microfiber cleaning cloth that sticks to the back of a smartphone or tablet -- started picking up steam.

Called HypeWipes, the cloths were a hit at trade shows and amongst a growing number of customers. But that luck soon changed for 14-year-old Sophia Forino, her sister Marissa, and the girls' father Rocca Forino: A company which markets a product called Hype-Wipe filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Forinos claiming the girls' invention infringes on the trademark for the Hype-Wipe, reports WVIT-TV.

What can small business owners take away from this somewhat unfortunate intellectual property dust-up?

Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" turned 50 this year, and business owners could learn a thing or two from how Willy Wonka runs his factory.

From a legal standpoint, Wonka's business is one giant lawsuit waiting to happen, and the whole thing is premised on inviting children into direct harm. But on top of being fictional, this business owner had some rather keen ways of keeping his business out of court.

Check out these five tasty legal lessons from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (both the book and the movie versions):