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Colleges Creating Law Clinics to Help Student Startups

The law is generally not a major concern for young tech geeks dreaming of being the next Mark Zuckerburg. But sometimes, long before the first billion is made, student startups hit a snag. A serious snag -- like a state attorney general's investigation.

That is what happened to some students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who found themselves under investigation by New Jersey. Their promising software was accused of hijacking computers. Instead of developing an investment strategy, the students found themselves under investigation. Ultimately, no one was charged with a crime but the experience taught MIT to think different about the law.

Small businesses make hiring decisions based not just on what an employee brings to the table today, but what he or she can bring to the company in the future. We want innovators with new ideas and meaningful contributions.

So what if those good ideas are patentable? Do they belong to you or your employee? Well that all depends on what kind of agreements you have in place before the invention.

In the business world, your name is everything. Ask Polaroid, Xerox, Kleenex, or Google, -- brands whose names have become synonymous with an entire product; they'll tell you exactly how important a business's name can be to their bottom line.

But you know this already, which is why you put so much time and care into crafting your small business's name. Now all you have to do is protect it. So what should you do if another business starts using your name?

I've been on a search for the perfect fried chicken sandwich, trying just about everything from Chick-Fil-A and Carl's Jr. to local spots and food trucks. I have yet to make it to Church's, but based on one ex-employee's legal claim, maybe I need to give their "Pechu Sandwich" a try.

Norberto Colón Lorenzana attempted to patent what I assumed was a classic staple of American cuisine, claiming he invented it in 1991. But a federal court shut him down, saying the fried chicken sandwich could not be copyrighted, meaning restaurants, drive thrus, and food trucks are free to keep cranking out deliciousness without paying Lorenzana royalties.

It says it right there on the label: "Die Weltmarke Mit Den 3 Streifen," or, "The Brand With the Three Stripes." In fact, those three stripes have been synonymous with the adidas brand for so long, you'd think they wouldn't even need to trademark it.

But they have, and now adidas America has filed a federal lawsuit against Forever 21, claiming the fashion retailer is selling apparel with adidas's signature "Three Stripe Mark."

You didn't come up with that fantastic business plan just to have someone else do it first. And you didn't invent that device so that someone else could sell it without paying you.

The business world can be a cut-throat industry, so how do you make sure someone else doesn't steal your best business ideas? You turn to intellectual property laws. Here are three IP laws and how to use them to protect your business:

These days, most small businesses would have their Internet domains reserved before they even signed the incorporation papers. In fact, I'm sure many companies failed to even launch because a url or Twitter handle was already taken.

But that wasn't always the case. Back in the old days, folks would just start a business, give it the name they wanted, and wait a few decades until Al Gore invented the Internet. Then some computer geek could sit on thousands of domain names and wait for the company to buy it from him. So how do you your company's Internet identity back from these domain squatters?

Technology has consistently made our favorite music more mobile. Music streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify allow us to have our own soundtrack everywhere we go. Businesses are also taking advantage of streaming sites. By now we've all seen a bartender or a barista with their phone plugged into the sound system, setting the mood for the establishment.

But is this kosher, legally? Are there different rules for streaming Pandora at a business?

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: