Understanding of necessary business requirements is very important as they become important when conflicts arises. It is important to brand and also patent your ideas as this gives you a competitive advantage.
The two most precious resources for any small-business owner are time and money. That’s why when the subject of intellectual property comes up, many owners run in the other direction. They see images of expensive lawyers and use that as an excuse to ignore the topic, reasoning that it is a problem for big companies to worry about.
The trouble is, with the rise of competition through the Internet and on the global market, understanding intellectual property is more critical than ever for small-business owners. Let’s explore some of the common fallacies:
- For small-business owners, it’s not worth the time or effort to secure intellectual property rights.
Daniel Lubetzky, chief executive of New York City-based Kind Snacks, had high hopes when he and his company attended the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., in March. And who could blame him, since his Kind Plus bars had been named the best new product at the Natural Products Expo East last October?
But it didn’t take long before Mr. Lubetzky knew something had gone wrong: He kept hearing how one of his competitors had copied the packaging, look and feel of his bars.
- Once I get a trademark, my brand is safe.
It may be. But consider what happened to Tracey Deschaine, who runs a restaurant called Dixie Picnic in Ocean City, N.J.
When Ms. Deschaine opened her business in 2006, she secured trademarks on her business name and logo and on the name of her signature item, “upcakes,” which are upside-down frosted cupcakes. The problem, she says, was that even though she had obtained the trademarks, someone monitoring the activity on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Web site had spotted her application and secured upcakes.com as the Web address, or U.R.L., before she could.
“I had no idea that even though I have a trademark, someone else could just go register the U.R.L.,” she said. “I wish I had planned ahead and bought the site before I did that.”
- Having a patent gives me the right to produce something.
This is a very fundamental misunderstanding. Actually, what a patent does is give you the right to prevent someone else from producing what your patent covers. “Having a strong I.P. position helps ensure that other people pay you for your innovation like they would a toll on a road,” Mr. Kocher said.
But even if you do have a patent, there’s no guarantee that someone won’t try to get around it. There’s also no guarantee that you will win if you fight that person. But if you have your I.P. ducks in a row and a commitment to do whatever you can to defend those rights, you do have a fighting chance — even in a fight against a much larger company.
- If I have a patent or trademark in the United States, I don’t need to worry about the rest of the world.
It depends on your business model. Intellectual property rights, which also include country-specific U.R.L.’s, need to be obtained country by country, some of which protect them better than others. The cost can vary, too.
In Japan, for example, it is notoriously expensive to acquire patents. In addition, the annual fees required to maintain the patents there are often prohibitively expensive for small businesses, said Gary Johnson, chief executive of Blue Spark Technologies, a manufacturer based in West Lake, Ohio, that makes small, flexible batteries used in things like radio frequency identification tags.
- People who collect patents but don’t actually make anything are “patent trolls,” parasites who can make money only by filing lawsuits against real businesses.
The term “patent troll” was coined in the wake of the epic lawsuit fought between NTP, a small holding company, and Research in Motion, which makes the hugely popular BlackBerry. The focal point of the dispute was a patent for wireless e-mail delivery held by NTP — something that R.I.M. eventually would pay millions of dollars to license. But what most people remember about the story is the lawsuits and the notion that NTP was somehow in the wrong for trying to enforce its patent, mostly because it didn’t make any products itself.
As much as a business might be privately or publicly owned the services offered should not go against the law of the given country. This is especially on the part of discrimination which will mean a set group of people are not offered services for personal reasons.
You’ve probably seen these signs at restaurants: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Or, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”
But what do these signs really mean? Can a business just refuse service to someone? Can they throw you out if you forgot your flip-flops on the beach? When a refusal to serve someone is justified and when is it discrimination that could lead to a lawsuit?
The issue made big headlines recently, when the state of Indiana passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Gay rights activists immediately protested that the law was just a way to legalize discrimination against gays: any business owner could now refuse to serve them simply by citing a religious objection.
The law caused such a firestorm that the legislature hastily enacted an amendment clarifying that the law could not be used to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. But with other states also considering religious freedom laws, the issue isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
What Does It Mean to Discriminate Against Someone?
If there’s an anti-discrimination law, does that mean that a business can never refuse service to a member of a group that is protected from discrimination?
The answer is that you can refuse to serve someone even if they’re in a protected group, but the refusal can’t be arbitrary and you can’t apply it to just one group of people.
To avoid being arbitrary, there must be a reason for refusing service and you must be consistent. There could be a dress code to maintain a sense of decorum, or fire code restrictions on how many people can be in your place of business at one time, or a policy related to the health and safety of your customers and employees. But you can’t just randomly refuse service to someone because you don’t like the way they look or dress.