The Best Actions Entrepreneurs Can Take to Protect Intellectual Property

By: Eric Pesale

One important thing to consider as you’re growing your company: Making sure that you’re taking the right steps to protect your proprietary brand names, products, and technologies from potential infringers. If you don’t, you could jeopardize all of your hard work—and your reputation. And, worse, you might have to fork over millions of dollars in legal fees to resolve pertinent disputes.

Researchers at the American Intellectual Property Association found that total patent litigation costs an average of about $3 to 6 million for disputes valued between $1 million to 25 million. Yes, that’s a lot.

Fortunately, your company has options available to go against competitors and other malicious actors. Here are some actionable steps you should be taking to protect your company’s growing intellectual property portfolio.

Protect Your Business Trademarks

Registering your business and product names as trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Organization (USPTO) is highly recommended. You want to ensure that you can seamlessly conduct business across state lines while also enjoying heightened legal protections against infringers.

First, File for Trademark Protection Online

The USPTO allows companies to file trademarks online using its TEAS Plus application either before or after your company is using its brand and product names in interstate commerce.

If you decide to file your application after conducting your first interstate sale, you’ll have to include images or other examples showing how you’re using your product and brand names in commerce. If you plan to use your trademarks in interstate commerce in the future, you can register your trademarks on an Intent-to-Use (ITU) basis. Then, you can subsequently file a Statement of Use (SOU) form. You’ll need examples attached showing how you’re using your trademarks in commerce.

Heads up: This process entails additional fees, but the USPTO will prevent other companies from registering similar marks they file after the date you filed your ITU application. And that’s definitely what you’re looking for. Alternatively, you can register your trademarks with your state’s Secretary of State office if you only plan to conduct business in one state.

How to Report on Trademark Infringement

Although online marketplaces such as Amazon and Etsy offer internal trademark dispute procedures, they’re only helpful for removing infringing product listings. That might not be enough for every small business owner—especially if you’re seeking damages or injunctions against infringing merchants.

If that’s the case for you, you’ll want to explore your litigation, arbitration, and alternative dispute resolution options. In these instances, judges will usually compare the similarity of both trademarks using multifactor balancing tests.