August is National Black Business Month! As the number of entrepreneurs grows in the United States, it’s important that new business owners receive as much advice as they can. Kimra Major-Morris, a top-rated intellectual property attorney in Florida, provided us with a few tips every business owner should be aware of before they start their business.
Do a comprehensive search before registering the business.
As a business owner, you want to do everything possible to strengthen the reputation of your business by offering quality products and services. Brand strength begins with quality products and/or services. The second most important thing is brand ownership. New business owners should invest in a comprehensive trademark search to identify all others selling similar products/services. The law does not protect accidental infringers. After the launch party, the investment in marketing materials, and the public notice associating you with an infringing name/logo or product, the financial and reputational damage for failure to thoroughly vet your business name can be extensive.
Purchase domains before registering the business and before applying for trademark registration.
Business registrations and trademark applications are public record. There are individuals and businesses that generate lists of new business names and trademark application information for the sole purpose of buying domains that match the newly entered names, titles, and slogans on the public record. Stay a step ahead and purchase domains before they’re on anyone’s radar.
Don’t underestimate the value of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
The excitement of a new idea and its huge potential for success is difficult to contain, but mismanaged disclosures can be costly. In addition to applying for copyright, trademark, or patent protection, non-disclosure agreements can provide another layer of legal protection. Employers should be sure to have non-disclosure agreements signed by employees and contractors who will be exposed to the company’s valuable information such as marketing lists, formulas, processes, etc.
Address intellectual property assets in the partnership agreement.
As in any relationship, things can quickly change in the business relationship. Make arrangements for the worst-case scenario. Although most business partners know to have working agreements, the agreements often do not address who will have the right to use the company’s trademark (business name/logo), copyrights (creative content), or patents (inventions) if there’s a parting of ways. This often leads to expensive litigation and damaged relationships.
Be sure to have vendor contracts that protect your existing creative content and brand identity.
Your graphic designer, interns, web developer, employees, and other third parties should sign off on work-for-hire language to be sure their creative contributions are assigned to your company when the job is completed. In other words, you should be purchasing their services and the rights to the work simultaneously.
Aside from your primary business, consider what other products and/services will compliment your business and reserve additional trademark classes early.
Identical trademarks are granted to different users if they’re for unrelated products or services. If, for example, you’re starting an apparel line, you may also want to secure the classification for an app for your online store. Do it early, because it’s easier to reserve the desired trademark than to make others stop using it later. In other words, be intentional about your intellectual property portfolio.
Your new business’s intellectual property assets can create generational wealth.
Once you register your trademark, copyrights, and/or patents, don’t forget to add directives for those assets in your estate planning documents. Copyrights are valid for the life of the author plus 70 years, trademarks can be renewed every 10 years, and patents expire after 20 years. Trade secrets can remain a “secret” wealth generator for as long as they’re secret.