Friend it, follow it or link to it. Brainstorming, would-be entrepreneurs around the world are continuously connecting through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But, legal experts warn, users should beware of setting themselves up for Information-Highway robbery.
You can lock the doors on your home and your vehicle. You almost need to rent storage space to store your many login and passwords in today’s Internet age. But, what about your revolutionary ideas for starting your own company or launching a new product line? Do you have any rights when it comes to protecting things you carry in your head?
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Yes, the experts say. And they advise that you take them seriously, especially your most basic right for protecting your literally un-touchable valuables.
Remember, you have the right to remain silent.
“If you post a business idea on Twitter, someone could beat you to the punch,” said Jonas M. Grant, a small business lawyer and entertainment intellectual property attorney. “If your idea is what makes your for-profit business special, you should consult with an attorney to see what, if any, protections are available and save the Tweeting for when the business has launched. By posting an idea to a social networking site, you have contributed it to the public domain.”
It seems like a simple concept, but choosing how to protect your ideas can be a difficult and confusing process. Do you need a copyright? A trademark? A patent? What are trade secrets? FOXBusiness.com asked the legal experts to translate the legal jargon regarding intellectual property rights.
Anita Campbell, founder and CEO of Smallbiztrends.com, an online resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs, said if your creation is a book, blog post, artwork, cartoon, software, podcast recording, video, or anything along these lines, than a copyright is right for you. A copyright protects original creative works and the “expression of an idea,” she said. You can simply register for copyright protection with the U.S. Copyright Office.
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So, you weren’t born yesterday – and you know better than to Tweet about your idea or write about it on your Facebook page. But what about the people you are including on your launch team? Or, how about if you’d like to discuss your brainchild with any consultants or potential future business partners and/or clients? Can you trust them to keep it off their online world?
The experts say no. If you don’t protect yourself ahead of time, you could wake up to an e-mail announcing the successful launch of your long-time-planned dream company -- and have no legal means to get back what is rightfully yours.
With start-ups predominantly using the cross-globe-reaching Internet and social networking sites to get things moving, Grant said no small business is “too small” to invest in protecting company information. He said this is the reason to have anyone you share your grand plan with sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), also known as a confidentiality agreement, confidential disclosure agreement (CDA), proprietary information agreement (PIA), or secrecy agreement. He said to always protect your trade secrets or confidential business information to avoid losing an idea or strategy to another company.
In fact, Grant said small businesses should act like the largest companies in the world, and keep all future business plans secret until all available intellectual property protections are in place and it is time to launch to the public.
In the bigger picture, protecting brand names and logos for goods and services require trademark protection, which Campbell said can also protect your marketing advantages.
Patent law protects new inventions, products or business methods. Patents assure the full economic benefit of the invention. Campbell said to seek patent protection if it’s truly a unique or revolutionary product. “Patents can be very valuable and this is a weighty decision worthy of your time and attention,” Campbell said.
Because the Internet has become a staple in creating a successful business, protecting your domain name is as serious as any other protection rights.
“Register your main business domain name for as long as possible – 8 to 10 years if you can,” Campbell said. “You just don’t want to risk having it expire on you. It’s also a good idea to get a domain name for your personal name, helping you develop your personal brand, which stays with you regardless of where you are employed or what business you are in.”