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Startups Face Increasing Threat From Patent Trolls

You know that bully? The one who, rather than bring his own lunch to school, sits around, waiting to take other kids' lunch money? And he uses the unoriginal, yet effective, "pay up or else" threat? The patent troll is kind of like the bully of the intellectual property world. And while today's startups may not have the most lunch money on the playground, they are facing an increasing threat from these patent trolls.

What to Do If Patent Trolls Threaten Your Business With a Lawsuit

Patents, and other forms of intellectual property, are meant to encourage creativity and innovation. That's why if you suspect that someone has infringed on your patent, you have the option of filing a lawsuit against that person. However, there are entities -- referred to as patent trolls -- that make money by suing or threatening to sue businesses for patent infringement.

CA Brewery Faces Legal Claims by Thelonious Monk Jr.

Intellectual property rights can seem like invisible property rights. They're out there, but that never seems to stop businesses and enterprising individuals from running afoul of them. That's apparently true for the North Coast Brewing Company, out of Mendocino, California.

A federal judge refused to dismiss a trademark infringement suit brought against the company on Wednesday, alleging that the company improperly used the likeness of jazz legend Thelonious Monk to sell beer-related merchandise without permission.

You're starting a business because you've got some great, new ideas. So how do you protect those ideas once you're in business?

From intellectual property laws to non-disclosure agreements, there are quite a few legal options for protecting trade secrets. Here's how to know which is the right option for a particular product or idea, and which are right for your startup.

If small businesses don't have their intellectual property in order and legally protected, they could be in big trouble. That's why we normally take patents, trademarks, and copyrights so seriously around here.

But every now and then we run across an IP story so weird we have to share it. So here are seven of the strangest stories involving patent and trademark law:

Adidas, the sportswear and athletic shoe company, is on the receiving end of a trademark infringement lawsuit filed by the organizers of the popular annual art show, Art Basel. The lawsuit alleges that the shoe company manufactured a limited edition shoe that had the trademarked phrase "Art Basel" printed directly on the shoe's tongue.

While many Art Basel fans found these limited edition sneakers to be highly desirable, Art Basel contends that Adidas did not have permission to use the trademark. The shoes that were distributed for free by Adidas, however, quickly found their way onto online marketplaces and were selling for hundreds of dollars. Additionally, Adidas mobilized marketers to report on the limited edition shoes at the event.

Lexmark International is a worldwide laser printer and imaging company with over $3.7 billion in annual revenue. Impression Products, on the other hand, has 25 employees and less than $15 million in annual sales. Yet this small business David took a Goliath to the Supreme Court, and won.

In what could be a big win for small businesses nationwide, the Court held that subsequently purchasing an already-sold and patented item does not violate patent law. And just like that, a seemingly esoteric corner of intellectual property law could mean millions for consumers and small businesses.

Trademarks exist in order to allow consumers to differentiate products and services that exist in a marketplace. When a business, other entity, or individual, puts time, money, and effort, into developing a valid trademark, the law provides certain protections for the trademark holder.

For instance, when trademarks look similar, or have the potential to confuse the public or consumers, a trademark infringement action can be brought against the infringing party. If the infringing party has profited off the use of the infringed-upon trademark, or has harmed the goodwill associated with the trademark, the amount of damages claimed can increase drastically. However, not all trademarks that appear to be similar or infringing will be found so under the law. There are several defenses to trademark infringement actions.

As we've said here before, patents can be vital to your small business. Beyond protecting your inventions and ideas, patents can add value to your business for investors or a possible future sale. And yet many entrepreneurs and small business owners fail to file for patents for fear that the process is too complex.

But the United States Patent and Trademark Office is aiming to change that perception and the reality of filing for patent protection. Here's how:

When you're just opening the doors to your small business, you're probably thinking more about dollars and cents rather whether a patent or a trademark makes more sense. But considering your intellectual property may be your business's most valuable asset, protecting those ideas, images, and creations should be at the top of your entrepreneurial to-do list.

So if you're wondering where to get started in securing your intellectual property rights, here is some of our best IP advice for new small business owners, from our archives.