Have you ever wondered why agricultural conglomerates spend so much time and effort safeguarding their seeds, keeping watch on cornfields night after night? Have you expressed incredulity at the lengths sneaker manufacturers go to prevent knock-offs from stealing their market share, or laughed as the makers of high-end purses encourage raids at flea markets where counterfeit products are sold?
The reasons for those seemingly over the top actions and supposed overreactions boil down to two words - intellectual property. For the shoe makers, seed companies and fashion designers in question, the products they create are only part of what makes their firms valuable - the other part of the value equation is their intellectual property, the logos, patents and swooshes that distinguish their offerings from those of their competitors.
As millions of men and women leave the workplace behind and strike out on their own, these new small business owners are discovering the value of intellectual property for themselves, and increasingly taking steps to protect what they have built. They may not be fashion designers or creators of specialty seeds, but they do have a vested interest in protecting both their tangible and intangible assets.
One of the best ways to protect those intangible assets is by hiring an intellectual property attorney, but not just any law firm will do. If you want to get the most for your money, you need to know what to look for - and more importantly what to ask. Here are some key questions to ask before hiring an intellectual property law firm.
What Are Your Fees and When Are They Due?
Some intellectual property law firms charge a flat fee for their services, while others operate on a more ad hoc basis. Before you sit down with an intellectual property attorney, you need to think about the types of protections your small business needs and how much you can afford to safeguard the intangible assets your company has created.
For the smallest of businesses, intellectual property protection may involve a kind of balancing act, one that weighs the dangers of theft against the cost of getting the protection you need. Cost is likely to be a factor, and that is always a good place to start.
Do You Provide International Protections?
Even if your small business operates only in your home country, you may need international protection for your logos, designs and other forms of intellectual property. If you do need such protection, you will want to make sure the law firm you hire has the international expertise you are looking for.
It is important to ask about international protection for intellectual property, as not all law firms provide these services or possess this kind of expertise. The more you know, the easier it will be to find an intellectual property law firm that meets your needs.
Does Your Firm Have Expertise in My Industry?
Not all intellectual property protection is created equal, and the aforementioned seed company may have much different legal requirements than the shoe manufacturer or the designer of expensive purses. Before you hire an intellectual property law firm, be sure to ask about their specific expertise in your industry.
The more specialized the industry, the more important this expertise will be. Think about what kinds of intellectual property your small business creates, what types of intangible assets it owns and which competitors are most likely to try to steal that valuable information.
Running a small business is difficult, and protecting what you have worked so hard for can be an even bigger challenge. If you want your small business to stand out from the rest, protecting your intellectual property will be key, so use the questions listed above to help you make the right choice when hiring a law firm.
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