Small Business Intellectual Property - Free Enterprise

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Coaches aren't just for athletes anymore. Many of us are turning to non-professional mentors or "life coaches" for help in finding direction, organization, and drive, and entrepreneurs and small business owners are no different.

Enter the online business coach. While it might seem like your small business could use the same sort of perspective and guidance as you do, there are some risks associated with business coaches, especially online.

Small businesses are always going to try and take advantage of world sporting events to boost their revenue or recognition. And the entities that put on those events will always try and protect their trademarks, allowing only official sponsors to use certain terms and images.

Just like FIFA with the World Cup, and the NFL with the Super Bowl, the United States Olympic Committee is extremely protective over the use of Olympic trademarks and terminology. Too protective? The USOC recently sent a letter warning businesses to "not create social media posts that are Olympic themed, that feature Olympic trademarks, that contain Games imagery or congratulate Olympic performance unless you are an official sponsor as specified in the Social Media Section." So how can your small business tweet and share the Games without breaking the law?

Pokemon Go is a legitimate sensation. The game became so popular so quickly, players were driving their cars into trees and getting arrested while playing. And any small business owner's eyes will turn into dollar signs when she hears that a platform has more daily users than Twitter.

So how can your small business break into the Pokemon Go market without breaking the law? Here's what you need to know.

Small business owners are protective of their brand. And there is the natural tendency to lash out at anything -- fake online reviews, defamatory comments, or intellectual property theft -- that threatens the integrity of that brand. Heck, even Donald Trump (or more accurately, especially Donald Trump) goes after those he thinks might harm his image.

But sometimes those efforts can backfire, as The Donald himself demonstrated last week, via an ill-advised and subsequently eviscerated cease and desist letter. Let this letter be a lesson to entrepreneurs and small business owner about the limits of defending the brand.

Patent Basics for Entrepreneurs

Every entrepreneur needs to know something about patents, lest you miss an opportunity to invest in a lucrative new invention. Or worse, fail to patent yours as promptly as possible.

Patents are part of a system for organizing intellectual property. They protect inventions, so you need more than just an idea to be granted a patent and applying can be an arduous process. Still, wait too long and someone may beat you to the punch. So let’s get started.

Top 5 Small Business Intellectual Property Issues

Your business may sell tangible goods -- cars or cupcakes, say -- or it may sell services. But whatever business you are in, you will likely also have some intellectual property, meaning ideas, concepts, methods, phrases, or images which you seek to protect.

Intellectual property law governs the grant of patents, trademarks, copyright, and more. Let's consider the top five IP issues for small business.

There's not a business out there, big or small, that doesn't have intellectual property issues. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights touch every aspect of business, not just the latest tech startup. So if don't have a plan to assert and protect your small business intellectual property rights, you don't really have a business plan at all.

From the idea to the Patent and Trademark Office to the courtroom, here's what your small business or startup needs to know about intellectual property:

No Editorial Oversight or Staff Means No Liability for Online Publisher

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late last month that a media company was not responsible for the copyright infringing posts of its freelance writers. If you are running an online business of any kind, creating content, or working with contractors and freelancers, you will find this case interesting.

According to Reuters, the three-judge panel ruled that was entitled to safe harbor protection for Internet Service Providers under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and, as such, was not responsible for content posted to the site by "Examiners." The ruling seems to suggest that the less responsibility a publisher takes for its content or creators, the better off it will be from a liability perspective.

You have a great idea. Now how do you make sure no one steals it? Having a website is essential these days, and it can be a great way to get your small business's ideas and information out to a wider audience. But it can also expose those ideas to some less ethical outfits just looking to lift content from other sources.

Copyrights are intended to protect your work from someone else's unlicensed use, but do they apply to website content? And are copyrights the best way to protect material and ideas on your website?

We're big advocates of registering your trademarks -- it's a relatively painless process that can protect your intellectual property from infringement. We say "relatively painless" because, unlike the trademark for Havana Club rum, most trademark applications don't take 21 years to be processed.

One way to avoid having your trademark application sit around for two decades is to stay out of the kind of litigation Havana Club got involved in. Here are a few others: