Intellectual property protection for small businesses

By Samantha Garner | July 26, 2014

intellectual-property-protectionThe main forms of protecting your intellectual property are: patents, copyright, trademarks, industrial design patents, integrated circuit topographies and trade secrets.

Patent

If you’ve finally reinvented the wheel, you’ll probably need a patent. Patents are needed for new gadgets, processes, apparatuses, products or compositions of matter that have had no previous exposure to the world. To patent an invention, it must be the first of its kind in the world, be useful and must not be obvious to someone familiar with that area. You can’t get a patent for an idea, an abstract theorem, a method of doing business, a medical treatment or a computer program.

A patent will give you the exclusive right to produce, manufacture, use and sell the product. However, you’ll also have to disclose all information about the design to the world. You can also patent an improvement or a refinement to a product, but you’ll have to disclose design information here too.

Copyright

Copyright covers any creative work of expression (literary books/leaflets/periodicals, lectures/sermons, artistic, musical, dramatic, databases, computer programs or sound/video recording), and lasts the lifetime of the artist plus 50 years. This gives you the right to control and the right to be paid royalties.

Trademark

A trademark protects an identifying mark for 15 years once registered with Strategis Canada. However, the trademark can be renewed after the 15 year period. A trademark can be obtained for anything used to distinguish you from a competitor, like a word; phrase; logo; picture; shape; design; certification mark or even the shape of words. With this protection, nothing confusingly similar can be used legally. However, depending on your success, it may be possible to lose your trademark name. For example, Zipper, Kleenex, Band-Aid and Xerox aren’t trade names anymore because they’ve become generic household names.

Industrial design

Industrial design can cover unique ideas, features, patterns, configurations, shapes, or ornaments of an object and is protected for 10 years. The design is usually an article made by tools, machines or hand. For example, the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle or of a snowboard are both industrial designs.

Integrated circuit topographies

Integrated circuit topographies (computer chips, microchips or semiconductor chips) are protected for 10 years. You can protect against reproduction, manufacturing, importation or exploitation of an integrated circuit. In order to register, you must send an application to the CIPO’s Registrar of Topographies within two years of the first use.

Trade secret

A trade secret is a piece of knowledge that isn’t published and is kept confidential. Some examples of trade secrets are the formula for Silly Putty, a company’s customer lists and the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Non-disclosure agreements or non- compete contracts are signed to keep these secrets a secret, and anyone could be sued for all potential damages if they have loose lips. Trade secrets never expire.

Any of these intellectual properties can be licensed instead of registered by you. In this case, you may not have enough money to register the property and you may give the right to another person or company to manufacture or sell your invention in exchange for royalties. In fact, this is done quite often. Some people also share their patents and discoveries with others to further research and design activities.

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Small business blog posts we liked this week

By Samantha Garner | July 19, 2014

From customer service to holiday sales (yes, the winter holidays!), we found some good business blog posts this week that we wanted to share with our fellow entrepreneurs:

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Real entrepreneurs’ stories of small business struggle

By Samantha Garner | July 12, 2014

closing a businessA couple of years ago, we wrote about when it was time to throw in the towel and exit your small business. It’s a reality for many entrepreneurs – no business lasts forever, and many close within a few years.

Of course, here at GoForth Institute, we want to give small business owners all the tools they’ll need to succeed in entrepreneurship, but we also know that the end of a business is a part of every entrepreneurial life cycle.

That’s why we were interested to read an article in Entrepreneur this week, Is it Time to Give In? How to Know for Sure. Here’s an excerpt:

“I really started noticing my judgment became very clouded, and I wasn’t open to people’s ideas,” says the chairman of Camping World and host of CNBC’s The Profit. “I was so caught up in my own world I couldn’t even see new ideas.”

Have a look at the article – we think it’s important for all entrepreneurs to recognize the signs of a small business in crisis, and what can be done about it.

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Perks and snags of small business cooperatives

By Samantha Garner | July 5, 2014

Cooperative small businesses are organized and controlled by members – an association of people who strive to meet common needs. There are approximately 8,800 cooperatives in Canada. If you’ve shopped at a Co-op grocery store, well, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that it’s a cooperative organization.

Members pool resources and are given one vote per member. Membership is open and voluntary and members get regular patronage dividend payments. There are two operations of the cooperative: general meetings of the members or delegates; and the board of directors elected at a general meeting. Users or stakeholders of the cooperative usually include consumers, producers, workers or multi-stakeholders.

Here are some perks and snags of a cooperative business:

Perks

  • Limited liability.
  • Profit distribution in proportion to use of service.
  • One member, one vote (democratic control).
  • Owned and controlled by members.
  • Ability to respond to community needs.
  • Community development in remote areas can be stimulated as a spin-off from a cooperative activity.
  • The survival rate of co-ops is higher than private sector companies.
  • Life of the company doesn’t end with the death of a shareholder.

Snags

  • It takes longer to make decisions.
  • Record keeping requirements are extensive.
  • There is less incentive to invest additional funds – members having the larger investment have no advantages over smaller contributors.
  • Conflicts may develop between members.
  • Members must participate for success.

Want more perks and snags? Check out our earlier blog posts on:

 

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Perks and snags of incorporation

By Samantha Garner | June 28, 2014

Perks and snags of small business incorporationIn previous blog posts, we’ve discussed the perks and snags of sole proprietorships and partnerships. However, a corporation is very different from these two forms because the company is considered by law to be a unique entity, separate from the owners. The corporation can be taxed, sued, own property and can enter into contractual agreements at either the federal or provincial level.

Terms that identify a corporation include “Limited”, “Ltd.”, “Incorporated”, “Inc.”, “Corporation”, or “Corp.”

Owners of a corporation are its shareholders, who can’t be personally responsible for the corporation’s debts or obligations, and can’t claim any loss the corporation might experience. A board of directors is elected by shareholders to oversee major decisions. The corporation doesn’t dissolve when ownership changes.

Here are a few perks and snags that you may experience by incorporating your business.

Perks of incorporation

  • Possible tax advantage.
  • Shareholders can only be held accountable for their investment in stock of the company.
  • Transferrable ownership, no limited lifetime of the company.
  • Sale of stock allows for additional funds; it can be easier to raise capital.
  • Specialized management – management and ownership are separate.
  • Benefits may be deducted.
  • Separate legal entity.

Snags of incorporation

  • Most time-consuming and expensive form of organization.
  • Federal and state agencies monitor corporations.
  • Charter restrictions.
  • Legal formalities.
  • More paperwork, record keeping and filing requirements; closely regulated.
  • Often higher overall taxes.
  • Dividends may be taxed twice.
  • Possible conflicts between shareholders and executives.

 

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