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Patent, Trademark, or Copyright, Are They Worth It?

Intellectual Property...is it worth it? In the last two weeks I have run up against issues with intellectual property concerns over trademarks, patent policy, and copyright. In small business, the rank and file feel the “protection” process is necessary but not effective. Here are three examples of what I mean:

Don’t tell, It’s my patent

A software engineer is burning up social media bragging about his patent and how he kept it secret until late into production. Throughout his discourse he encouraged readers to avoid “letting the cat out of the bag” and used this as the premise for his success. Basically secrecy is necessary to combat fear of discovery. Unfortunately this strategy is costly and warrants review because shared knowledge enables rapid adoption of the idea, potential avoidance of issues, and ability to fully realize potential.

Copyright doesn’t really work

An avid photographer had become cynical about the value of copyright and how the process is wrought with uselessness. The fact that copyright of photography is relatively easy and cheap is not a compelling reason to support it. Factually the real issue is in defense of copyright not in obtaining it or the process. The best way to protect photography is not to publish it but that defeats the true purpose of photography -sharing with others.

Publish my way

An artist is maniacally focused on protecting pictures of his paintings and demands that any reproduction or distribution be carefully screened and only produced at low resolution. He neglects to realize that his buyers want to see realism, clarity, and detail not simple subject matter. There are other ways to tag graphics to stop private use or piracy including watermarks, layered text, and manipulation. The best way to stop misuse is either to not publish or create brand awareness through marketing and sales efforts.

The basic failing in each scenario

The foundational issue with each example is how intellectual property is managed. All three people are focused on the process of protection not on the end user. The key to successful management has to start with sales and marketing. Strong sales and marketing will create brand recognition and intrinsic protection because the biggest problem with intellectual property defense is valuing the result or lack thereof. In many cases defense is mitigated by availability of  financial resources. The one who has the deepest pocket wins. Kind of a tough situation to decide whether to defend or walk away. The answer lies in gathering knowledge of the process, understanding the benefit of a intellectual property strategy, and a thorough risk analysis. In essence, the end result must justify the means.

In This Age of “Digital Overload,” Awareness is King!

Don't Be Afraid of Online StrategySo many companies are driving home the need for web presence, social media involvement, and outbound authorship (blogs). How can a small business owner wade through this sea of information and create an action plan? The answer starts with identifying strengths, setting goals, and aligning resources. An organized way to accomplish this is through a SWOT analysis. The analysis provides a framework to build strategy and align resources effectively.

Next Step: How?

The biggest issues facing small business owners are time management, costs, vendor selection, and creation of valuable content. Even with a comprehensive analysis building an effective action plan can be a challenge in itself. I have found the best method is to break down the solution into workable chunks and focus energy on each piece. To keep things in perspective a process-based approach to the problem is best. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s focus on your digital real estate the “website”.

Website, I don’t need no S*&^%@# Website!

Unfortunately the idea of a website is beyond the capability of many business owners and they simply ignore its value and opportunity in hopes of success using “old school” methods. If they send enough direct mail, go to enough networking events, and discount their wares, success is a sure bet. Not so in today’s business climate. All aspects of marketing have to be addressed in some fashion or failure will be a foregone conclusion. A website can be boiled down to two types: Informational or Call to Action.

Information Website

Companies that rely more on industry tenure, publicity, and/or indirect sales efforts may not need a massive web presence to be successful. These companies can use an informational site designed to demonstrate product knowledge, show industry issues, prove quality through testimonial, give access to distribution, and showcase their culture. The site normally includes data about the company, reference material about the products, lifestyle interaction, blogs, links to social media and forums, and connection to distributors or alliance partners. In essence, its primary purpose is company awareness.

Call To Action Website

Websites for small businesses should be incorporated as “call-to-action” marketing mechanisms. The driving goal is to stimulate direct sales or demonstrate content value leading to the sales process. This type of site should include information about the company, value of its products to the buyer, ability to purchase easily (shopping cart), and strong linkage to social media, market pulse, and valuable content like blogs, FAQs, forums, or white papers. This comes with a cost. Small business owners are wooed by third party sites that offer bundled services in lieu of component-based processes and pay a premium per transaction cost rather than a manageable monthly fee. Unfortunately, the devil IS in the details.

Websites for Information or ActionGetting the Process Right

Time to take a step back and evaluate the current organization of your business and see how a web presence can be more effective. In 2014 alone, over 40% of small and medium businesses are going to spend money on optimization and  websites platforms.  Obviously, fellow business owners have identified the need and are in the process of change. Your first step is to set a budget and list expectations prior to taking any action. Use a strategic plan that builds value, adaptability, and efficiency into the design proactively rather than reactively.  Marshall the right resources and start today because Inaction will eventually lead to failure.

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