The internet and digital technology have made almost anything ubiquitously accessible, instantly shareable and easily duplicated. No wonder many businesses are cautious about putting their intellectual property (IP) on the web.
Don't panic! Your business can still benefit from the huge potential of the internet while protecting your IP from unscrupulous competitors. Here's how.
<>Assess your risk>
Major brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's have massive swathes of IP available on their websites and elsewhere across the web, including corporate videos, proprietary designs, creative campaigns, brand imagery and more. But you'll never find the recipe for Coke or the ingredients for McDonald's secret sauce anywhere online.
Conduct an audit of all the IP contained within your business, then assess the competitive value and potential risk profile for each. How likely and how easily could it be exploited? How damaging to your business would it be if it were?
Be honest. What is the secret sauce of your business? If someone were to rip off your blog post or steal your favourite image, it probably wouldn't destroy your competitive advantage. So don't be so protective that you stifle your marketing activities and restrict your success.
Your commercially sensitive business model or innovative product designs could, however, destroy a competitive advantage if exploited by your competitors.
<>Register your IP>
Copyright is automatic in Australia on any published or documented content and ideas. If your business trades internationally, copyright law varies from country to country, so check the requirements in each jurisdiction you trade within.
For other elements of IP, take out the necessary trademarks, design registrations or relevant patents.
For more advice and information on how to register and protect your intellectual property, visit the IP Australia website (http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au/).
Don't stop there, though. Prevention is far better than fighting an expensive and time-consuming trademark dispute later. So register any and all domain names that are similar to your trademarks. Include typo versions of your business name, abbreviations or anything that could potentially infringe your trademark or confuse customers if someone else were to adopt it.
Even when you've registered or copyrighted your IP, the onus is still on you to identify and act against infringements. So, depending on the level of risk, it's a good idea to check for potential plagiarism every now and then.
Mashable has a list of 10 online plagiarism checkers, some free. Simply enter your text and the software identifies any potential pages on the web containing similar paragraphs.
<>Dealing with infringements>
Not everyone has a detailed understanding of copyright law. Honest mistakes do happen, so don't assume every incident is malicious. For many common infringements, a simple and polite email asking the website or business owner to remove, modify or correctly attribute the item is often enough.
However, if your request is ignored, weigh up just how much damage is being caused before deciding whether to take legal action. Any legal action can be expensive, time consuming and could have unforeseen consequences that are potentially even more damaging to your business. So unleashing the lawyers on a minor website for copying a single blog post could be rather extreme.
Of course, for major IP infringements such as trademark or patent violations or repeated, systematic content plagiarism, you should seek legal advice.
<>Get the balance right>
Always protect your ideas before making them widely available. That's just as true now as it was before the internet was the germ of an idea. Don't be so cautious, however, that you handicap and restrict the very ideas that make it great.
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This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.
Jonathan has worked within, and written about, the technology industry for many years. Before going freelance as a writer in 2012, Jonathan had worked for Netregistry (web hosting) and Ninefold (cloud computing). Jonathan has won awards for his articles on online business for Nett Magazine and his over-opinionated blog Atomik Soapbox. He continues to write for Chief Content Officer magazine.