copyright and trademark intellectual property.

Major companies spend millions to protect intellectual property like patents, copyrighted logos, and trademarks. Small businesses, on the other hand, do not value intellectual property as much. In fact, only about 56 percent of small businesses consider intellectual property important, compared to over 80 percent of large companies, according to a survey conducted by the National Science Foundation.

Small businesses cannot really afford to overlook the importance of intellectual property, says John Burgess Chicago based entrepreneur and business consultant. Intellectual property, especially in the form of patents, could boost the overall value of a company. Also, when operating in the business sphere, companies that don’t pay attention to intellectual property could lose valuable copyright material to a competitor. There’s also the risk of being accused of copyright theft.

Small businesses must understand intellectual property better than they currently do. Below are several suggestions on how small businesses can protect intellectual property, and shield the company from copyright claims:

Identify the Company’s Intellectual Property

Start with identifying what can be considered intellectual property at the company. Commonly, business logos, marketing phrases, and sales taglines can be trademarked. The business’ photos can also be copyrighted. If the company has invented something new, then they may be eligible for a patent. It’s important to identify everything that could be protected under intellectual property law.

File Claims without Waiting

Once the identification process is done, then the business should file a copyright claim without waiting. It’s very important to file for a patent as soon as a potential patent is identified. The courts tend to favor the party that makes the claim first, not the one that comes after.

Don’t Use Images You Don’t Own on Web Pages

Some small businesses lose a lot of money paying fines for copyright violations associated with the use of online images. Use of images online has skyrocketed thanks to social media networks like Instagram. It’s easy to copy and paste a picture from an obscure blog or a website. But if these images are protected in any way, your business could end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fines. Therefore, do not publish photographs without knowing where they come from. Either use photographs taken by an employee, or buy stock photographs with clear terms of use. Otherwise, do not publish photographs without knowing their origin.

Thoroughly Research before Using Logos or Marketing Phrases

Be careful when using a phrase or a word in marketing material or branding plans. Before you use any phrase associated with company products, make sure no other company is using the same phrase. You could be violating trademarks or copyright law even if the context is different. Therefore, carefully research marketing phrases before using them. This applies to domain names as well.

Small businesses cannot necessarily hire copyright experts. But it’s strongly recommended to seek advice from a business consultant or an intellectual property attorney from time to time. This is one area where it’s better to be safe than sorry and neck deep in a lawsuit.