How to Protect Your Business With Patents, Trademarks & Copyrights

By: Melissa Kossler Dutton

Companies that develop new products or intangible creations need to evaluate whether they should legally protect their intellectual property.

When the owners of Modlich Monument Company hired a company to develop software to help them manage orders and operations, they never imagined that the intellectual property created would eventually lead to another revenue stream for the 82-year-old family business.

The software, once perfected and implemented, became so successful — cutting the processing time of orders by nearly 50% — that other companies in their field asked to buy it.

“It was developed to keep us organized and efficient,” said Jonathon Modlich, vice president of Modlich Monument Company. “We realized it could benefit others in our industry so we created a little side company.”

Suddenly, the company that performs the centuries-old function of making monuments found itself operating in the cutting-edge technology world and looking for ways to protect the software it created.

Companies that develop intellectual property — defined as work or an invention that is the result of creativity — have several avenues to protect it, including a patent, copyright or trademark.

The monument company’s legal team and business advisors were instrumental in launching MB ProBuild, the trademarked name for the software and the company that sells it, Modlich said.

Because their contract with the software developer — which the family had a personal connection to — was “work for hire,” they are able to sell the computer program, he said. On the advice of their legal team, they patented the name and require customers to buy licensing agreements to use it.

Natalie Monaco’s path to protecting her idea and launching a business around it was quite different. Monaco, who invented a comforter that stays in place to avoid cover stealing and simplify bed-making, secured a patent for the Covermade design and trademarked the name.

She sought a patent before pitching her idea to would-be retailers — something she believes helped get their attention.

“Having a patent — even earlier on while in patent-pending status — was very helpful,” she said. “When I first approached manufacturers and the buyers we work with today, such as Brookstone and Bed Bath and Beyond, I believe having an issued patent gave the Covermade a lot of credibility.”

Companies that are developing products, software or other intangible creations of human intellect need to carefully evaluate whether they should take actions to legally protect them.

ROI should be one of the key determinants, said Vincent G. LoTempio, a patent attorney with Kloss, Stenger & LoTempio in Buffalo, New York. “If you make a million dollars and spend $10,000 protecting your idea — that’s not much money,” he said. “However, if you spend $10,000 and make no money, it may as well have been $1 million” that you spent.