Avoiding Patent, Trademark, and Copyright Problems



Patents, copyrights and trademarks, as well as know-how or trade secrets, are often collectively referred to as intellectual property. Many firms have such property without even being aware of it or of the need to take measures to protect it.

Many people’s notions of intellectual property are unrealistic. Some believe, for example, that having a patent on a product will enable one to succeed in the marketplace. Consequently, they may spend thousands of dollars to obtain the exclusive rights to market something that no one wants or can afford to buy. Others may conclude that intellectual property protection is not worth the expense and bother.

People who may not be interested in protecting their own rights still must take precautions to avoid infringing on the rights of others. This calls for more than the avoidance of copying. Copying is unavoidable; it is a way of life and one way in which we learn. But, one can easily infringe on the rights of others without deliberately imitating specific features of goods or services.

This article addresses the steps newcomers to a market should take to avoid infringement and when they should take them.


Most people have heard variations on a remark attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: If a man can make a better mousetrap than his neighbor though he builds his house in the woods the world will beat a path to his door. To keep the discussion concrete let’s imagine a present day inventor of a new mousetrap who not only invents a better mousetrap but is also successful in marketing it. The higher the inventor’s profit margin the more others will want to copy his invention. Let’s assume that the inventor selects Figaro as the brand name and actively promotes the product. However he does not legally protect his invention but relies on the consumers’ loyalty goodwill and brand identification to ensure future sales.

Taking measures to develop loyalty and goodwill may be sufficient until a larger and better known competitor turns up. For example what if economies of scale and lack of development costs mean that the competitor can sell the same mousetrap for 20 percent less? Goodwill may not be enough to ensure customer loyalty at a higher price. A patent would be much more helpful because it would prevent the competitor from selling the new trap until well after the original firm had a chance to get on its feet. This situation illustrates that it is the smaller firm that often has the most to gain from protecting intellectual property.

To read more on this subject, please go to the below link taken from the SBA Website.



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