At the start of the year, we often conduct self-assessments to review where we are in our personal lives and to set future goals. Just as we do this with ourselves, business owners should periodically review the status and maintenance of their business and its intellectual property. Below is a quick summary of some items that business owners should consider.
Do you have an entity? This can provide some protection from liability related to claims against the business.
- Have you filed your annual reports?
- If you have a corporation, have you had annual meetings of the shareholders and directors?
- Do you have a shareholder agreement/operating agreement governing the relationship between the owners? This could address, for example, how, when, and to whom owners can transfer their ownership interests; how distributions of cash are made to the owners; and whose approval is required for certain actions.
Do you have a succession plan for your business? This may tie in with your estate plan.
Do you know what intellectual property (“IP”) your business has? This could relate to your name; logo; domain name; website, social media, or other written content; photographs; or your product itself.
- Have you registered/maintained important IP?
- Are you enforcing your trademarks? This can include your business and product names, logos, and taglines. Trademark rights may be eroded if these rights are not enforced against infringers.
- Are you maintaining the secrecy of your trade secrets? Do you have confidentiality agreements with your employees/contractors?
Do you have an agreement stating that you own IP created by your employees/contractors?
Do you own your domain name? Sometimes an employee or contractor may register in their name rather than the business’s.
Are you complying with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act? This can provide protection if someone posts content on your website (for example, through a chat room or comment) that infringes a third party’s copyright.
Are you protecting and securing electronic data that contains personal information (including information you may collect through your website)?
- Are you using third-party content/likenesses on your website? If so, you should confirm these are used properly.
Co-author Elizabeth M. Stamoulis is a partner with Williams Parker. Liz leads the firm’s intellectual property practice. She represents companies and individuals, helping them protect their creative works, proprietary information, and goodwill, and with day-to-day corporate advice. She regularly provides guidance regarding copyright, trademark, trade secrets, and general internet law matters along with business formation, contracts, and transactions. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School and earned her BA from Dartmouth College. Liz can be reached at 941-552-5546 or [email protected].
Co-author Adrienne C. Phillips is a corporate and intellectual property attorney with Williams Parker. She graduated cum laude from Emory University School of Law where she was Chief of Staff for the Journal of Law and Religion, a Teaching Assistant in Advanced Legal Writing and Editing, a member of the Phi Delta Phi Honors Society, and a member of the Vis Moot Court Team. She received the CALI Excellence Award in Legal Writing and the Faculty Legal Writing Award and was a Pro Bono Medal Recipient. Adrienne can be reached at 941-329-6601 or [email protected].