As a business owner or manager, you have probably experienced or at least heard about costly and disruptive intellectual property infringement lawsuits. You may also be very concerned about protecting your company’s customer lists and other valuable proprietary information and know-how from misappropriation by employees and consultants. Indeed, avoiding infringement of intellectual property owned by others and safeguarding intellectual property owned by the company can seem overwhelming at times. However, all companies, including start-ups with limited budgets, can avoid many serious intellectual property issues just by proactively taking a few simple steps.
Typical intellectual property pitfalls that companies encounter include:
To complicate things further, the types of intellectual property problems that can arise and the ease in which they can occur have increased over the past several years. Due to the advancement of the Internet and social media, for example, we now have to deal with cybersquatting and other issues surrounding domain names, problems with keyword advertising, social media trademark and copyright infringement, and other Internet-related and website-related issues. More importantly, the types of platforms from which intellectual property infringement can occur have greatly expanded. For example, company websites and social media provide easy means for advertising and selling company products. However, these platforms also make it easy for a company to simply cut and paste and inadvertently use (including by re-posting, linking, framing and tweeting) trademarks and creative content owned by others.
The good news is that most if not all of the above issues can be easily addressed proactively before problems arise. Here’s a simple protocol to start with:
A good company policy is: “If we create it, we need to protect it.” The corollary is also true: “If we didn’t create it, we need to make sure we have the right to use it.” A plaque with words to this effect should hang over the door to the company’s marketing department.
Most importantly, educate employees regarding these matters. For example, make sure that all employees understand that even though photographs and other creative content can be easily found on the Internet and seem to be in common use by others, this does not mean that such materials are in the public domain and free for use by anyone. In fact, the odds are high that they are not.
Most content on the Internet is owned by someone, often someone who regularly polices the Internet for infringement and hopes to make a quick dollar off your mistake.