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The U.S. Small Business Administration recently published an article called Follow These Steps to Starting a Business.

The article makes some good suggestions for important practical steps that small businesses should do when launching a new business, such as determining the legal structure, getting a tax ID,  and obtaining licenses and permits.  The suggestions don’t really address at all the necessity to have a creative idea, an idea about to whom it will be sold and how it will be marketed. It does recommend a business plan, although some people believe such plans to be overrated and to actually limit long term visions for growth and achievement.

But the ‘steps’ suggested is that they do not properly cover intellectual property. While registering the business or fictitious name with the state is recommended, such filings do not provide any real protection and can be terribly misleading. Generally, a business in the same state would be blocked from registering an identical name. But if they change the spacing, add a basic word like “The” or “Inc” it generally will not block the name. And the register is only within the individual state, providing minimal protection in the other 49 states. Other intellectual property protection is not included in the recommended steps in the SBA article. 

Any list of top 10 steps to starting a business should include “Protect Intellectual Property.” If the IP is not protected, any growth or value achieved by company could be significantly affected or limited. If a trademark is used in during start up – and not protected – and shortly thereafter an  infringement situation or accusation arises, the result could included costs that could have been avoided, uncertainty, delay, or worse – changing brands mid-stream and confusing customers.

If I were writing for the SBA, here is what I would tell start ups about the value of protecting their intellectual property:

Most new businesses in the 21st century are built around a significant amount of intellectual property. Between brand names, logos and slogans used in marketing  (trademarks); content in the form of web pages, blogs, video, software, and more (copyrights); and patentable inventions; intellectual property is often a key to the potential success of any new venture. As a result, early in the start up phase – ideally before the doors are literally or figuratively opened – business owners should take steps and investments to make sure intellectual property can be and is protected.  In addition, small businesses should be careful to include intellectual property provisions in contracts with partners, employees, contractors, and others to properly control and acknowledge who owns newly created intellectual property.

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