The appeal of your business, as well as its product or service offerings, can most likely be taken to a higher level of acceptance, preference. If you are not effectively protecting your offerings, then your business is just going to appear like every other business offering the same thing under a different name.
Not only is formally and proactively protecting your uniqueness smart from a business standpoint, it’s also smart from a positioning, branding and value-building standpoint too. Are you reinforcing your uniqueness with any of these protective measures?
1. Copyright: Copyright applies to written works, visual works such as graphics or artwork, or photographic imagery. Your company’s custom-drafted documents, marketing and communications materials, and photo images taken all should be protected by copyright.
2. Service Mark: A service mark is to specifically identify the services offered by your business as unique to your business. The service mark is obtained for a word, name, phrase, color, image or a combination of these. It can also be used to identify your business as the originator of the service. A consulting business can service mark the company’s name, as well as service mark the name of its specific approach to providing a particular service.
3.Trademark: A trademark is specific for products or goods being offered by your business that are deemed unique to your business. It is the brand name of the specific goods you are offering and can be a word, name, device, logo, sound, color or a combination of these to differentiate your product from others in the same genre.
4. Patent: Patents are more complicated and fall into three categories: utility patent, design patents, and plant patent. The utility patent applies to a process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter (formula). A design patent applies to a unique design for an article of manufacture or an end-product or good. A plant patent applies to a person who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct or new variety of plant. If you have a custom designed product that is replicable, you should be seeking a patent to protect others from copying and marketing it.
5. Confidentiality: Where many individuals are misguided is in believing that their idea itself is what can be trademarked, patented, or copyrighted. This is incorrect. The resulting process, image, documented approach, drawing, configuration – and the list goes on – is what you can protect, not the initial idea itself. This is why a confidentiality agreement is so important. If you are continuously in an innovation mode in your business, a confidentiality agreement should be a standard document and expectation in order to work with or for your business. If you provide services where your expertise is aiding others in their uniqueness or a preferably private issue, a confidentiality clause or confidentiality agreement initiated by you will reinforce your trust-worthiness and professionalism.
What I have shared here is a very basic introduction. To learn more about copyrights, go to www.copyright.gov. To learn more about service marks, trademarks and patents, go to www.uspto.gov. For help with these as well as with preparing a confidentiality agreement, consult with an intellectual property professional or attorney. No matter what type of business you are in, you have something that can be protected through one or more of these measures. By protecting what is unique to your business, you are reinforcing your advantage and reason to do business with you over someone else.
Sherré DeMao is author of the nationally acclaimed books, 50 Marketing Secrets of Growth Companies in Down Economic Times, www.50marketingsecrets.com, and Me, Myself & Inc., www.memyselfandinc.com, Her column seeks to help business owners build and grow sustainable enterprises and businesses with economic value and preference in the marketplace.