April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day, which means this is a great opportunity to talk about how you can protect the original work you’ve created.
This is super important to me because I used to be an intellectual property attorney. I also started a virtual law practice which specifically helped young entrepreneurs protect their businesses.
I even created a legal resource called Small Business Bodyguard, complete with contract templates and cheat sheets for entrepreneurs who have real legal needs but don't have an attorney.
Helping historically excluded business owners in this way has always been very important to me, because too often we’re taken advantage of simply because we don’t have the knowledge to protect ourselves.
I can’t stress how important it is to safeguard your business assets at every level of business, even if you can't afford to hire a lawyer… yet.
Bookmark this Bulletin. It’s a must-read.
What Is IP?
IP stands for intellectual property.
As the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) states, IP means, “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.”
In other words, IP is…
That eBook you wrote and shared with your mailing list.
The 5-step hair care method you teach to your clients.
The helpful worksheets you created for your students.
That sizzling dance tutorial video you posted online.
Anything you create with your intellect, time, energy, sweat, and tears, your work – that is your IP.
How to Protect Your IP
When you’re self-employed, it’s crucial to protect your IP. This is your life’s work and, often, your primary source of income.
Think of your IP as Beyonce during her On The Run tour. Of course, you need to surround Queen B with bodyguards and protect her fiercely.
The best way to protect your IP is to hire an attorney who can analyze your business, identify risks, and file the necessary paperwork to keep you protected.
However, if you’re in the early stages of your business and don’t have the funds to hire a lawyer yet, here are 3 things you can do immediately.
1. Use official documents and get everything signed.
Hiring a freelancer to help with a few tasks is a great way for any entrepreneur to scale their offerings. Still, you need to protect your IP. Have them sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) stating that they won’t discuss your trade secrets publicly.
You’re beginning work with a new client? Ask them to sign a client agreement stating what services you’re providing, the payment schedule, refund policy, and other important details.
In this agreement, you can include a statement that forbids the client from misusing the information that you provide. (For example: you have a workbook that you provide to clients, but you don’t want the client to share this workbook with their friends.)
2. File to Get Your Trademarks, Patents, and Copyrights
This step is easier than you might think.
Use LegalZoom to do trademark registration, copyright registration, and provisional patent application. Cover your ass…ets.
3. Enforce Boundaries and Don’t Let Things Slide
Let’s say you create a wonderful online course. A customer signs up and completes the course. Then, a month later, that same customer announces a suspiciously similar course with almost exactly the same name and curriculum.
When something like this happens (and sadly, it happens all the time) respond swiftly. Reach out to the offender by sending a cease and desist letter.
Don’t waste any time - call them on their sh*t.
And don’t worry about offending someone. Worry more about the funds in your bank account.
. . .
Here’s something infuriating.
BIPOC creators often have their IP stolen by white creators who pass it off as their own - for no pay or credit.
14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon, who is Black, created choreography for the “Renegade” TikTok dance. It quickly became a viral sensation and one of the most popular dances on the Internet.
This type of IP theft happens all the time.
Unfortunately, due to systemic racism and unfair pay gaps, many BIPOC creators don’t have the funds to hire a lawyer and fight back.
By following the 3 action steps above, you can begin to protect your work from copycats, thieves, and clueless dingbats.
And finally, good news: depending on your income level, you may be eligible to get help from an IP lawyer – for free – through the US Trademark and Patent Office, which provides pro bono legal services to those in need.
Your art matters. Your work is valuable.
P.S. You have questions about money, building wealth, running a business, marketing, pricing, sales, and the legal aspects of entrepreneurship? Join We Should All Be Millionaires: The Club.
As a Club member, you get access to an outstanding team of expert coaches. Ask questions. Get answers. We support you, step by step, as you build your business and maximize your earning potential.
AND, you also get access to Small Business Bodyguard, which teaches you the ins and outs of protecting your business and IP in detail. I used to sell this as a course on its own, but now it’s only available inside The Club.