The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a new wave of digital innovation as entrepreneurs are pivoting and focusing on fostering virtual connections with their consumers. Whether you’re a business owner who has been operating a brick-and-mortar for years and is now focused on cultivating a strong digital presence or you’re using this quarantine time to lay the foundation for a new venture, it’s essential to ensure that your intellectual property is protected as we shift to a new normal. Award-winning intellectual property lawyer Kimra Major-Morris, Principal Attorney at Major-Morris Law, LLC, shared insight on how business owners can protect their online enterprises.
You cannot protect what you don’t know you have.
According to the American Bar Association, the DOC estimates the value of stolen intellectual property in the U.S. is between $200 billion and $250 billion a year. Major-Morris stressed the importance of identifying your intellectual property assets and then moving forward with a plan to have them legally protected. “Across the board, not just in our community, there is a general lack of education in regard to the role that intellectual property plays in a successful business,” Major-Morris told NewsOne. “A lot of individuals don’t know the difference between a copyright, trademark, patent or trade secret. Without knowing what you have, you’re not going to know the steps to take to approach getting the right protection. Education is the key to helping close the knowledge gap surrounding intellectual property.” Major-Morris also added that copyright, trademark, and patent registrations are powerful tools to control brand use, establish brand consistency, and enforce federal rights against unfair competitors. Whether it’s creative content, brand identity, a proprietary process, or an invention, your business has a distinguishing aspect that sets it apart. It’s worth clarifying what that is to have written policies and procedures in place to protect them.
Customized contracts are crucial.
The Major-Morris Law founder believes all contracts related to business dealings should be tailor-made. “There are many sites that provide affordable ways to protect your intellectual property. Although the services are a fraction of what you’d pay a law firm, you have to look at what they are promising for those discounted rates,” she said. “Do not download the generic contract off the internet. Many people believe it will be costly to hire an attorney to personalize a contract based on their needs, but it saves them thousands of dollars down the line. It’s important to have terms and conditions that match your business model.”
Three key aspects of transitioning from brick-and-mortar to digital.
Major-Morris says having a federal trademark, implementing non-disclosure agreements and focusing on warranties and representations are key when transitioning to the digital space. Federal trademark protection comes with many business benefits and covers everything from addressing the production of infringing products to gaining control of social media handles that may already exist with your namesake. Non-disclosure agreements are essential to put in place with employees who are accessing confidential information so a business owner can have legal protection in the event of someone using the information for personal purposes. Warranties and representations are going to help create a buffer between your business and potential lawsuits for copying.
“If you’re transitioning to online, you may have someone creating your graphics or writing your website copy and you don’t know if they’re copying someone else,” said Major-Morris. “If they are copying the work of others and your business gets a copyright infringement notice, warranties and representations provide limited liability.”
Adapting to the virtual business landscape involves having clarity surrounding limitations on access for employees and independent contractors.
Major-Morris says it’s crucial to implement multiple layers of protection for the company’s most valuable assets. “The virtual business model is different because when we go into the office there is a lot more oversight. By and large there are going to be honor systems for a lot of companies because they don’t have the basic contracts in place that give terms and conditions for work products,” Major-Morris told NewsOne. “Whether they are independent contractors or employees, you have to spell out the limitations on access so information isn’t used for self-serving purposes.”
Our generational wealth is on the line.
When launching a business, entrepreneurs must think long-term so they can generationally pass down what they have created. “As a community, we were already trying to catch up with intellectual property ownership, which is one of our business’ most valuable assets,” Major-Morris said. “It’s great to step into entrepreneurship and become self-employed but then we have to ask ourselves, how will it benefit our kids when we are not here? My goal is to educate more of us so we can lock in the things we own and understand the value we bring to the table. I want to empower entrepreneurs to move quickly in protecting their intellectual property so our children and future generations can benefit from that ownership.”
Kimra Major-Morris, a business, entertainment, and sports attorney, hosts a show in conjunction with FAMU College of Law and Orange TV dubbed Legal Connections. The show highlights individuals in the legal community and spreads awareness about initiatives that have been launched in relation to legislation. She also hosts several seminars and workshops and provides consultations for business owners.
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