What is Your “IP IQ?”
It is almost impossible for any business, large or small, not to have some intellectual property. At a minimum, the name under which business is conducted and the business’s customer lists may constitute intellectual property. As a business grows, its inventory of intellectual property typically grows as well, and the business’s brand, or trademark, becomes increasingly important. It may have proprietary written materials, such as software, photos, marketing materials, etc. Perhaps the owner or her employees will have invented something that is entitled to patent protection. All too often, the value of a business’s intellectual property is not recognized until it is lost or endangered. The employee leaves and goes into competition with you, calling your customers and offering a better deal because he understands your pricing. Your product is reverse engineered, and a knockoff is sold by a competitor. Or, worse yet, you get a "cease and desist" letter from a business you have never heard of, claiming that your company name or brand infringes on its trademark or that your product infringes on its patent.
Many of these dangers can be alleviated by a certain degree of "preventative maintenance." Protecting your intellectual property is, in some ways, like protecting your tangible property. No one enjoys taking the car in to get the oil changed, or replacing the gutters on the house, but we all know that failing to do so could lead to catastrophic damage and will cost more in the long run. The same is true for intellectual property. "Preventative maintenance" in this context means identifying what intellectual property you have and making an informed decision, based on your long-term goals, your degree of risk tolerance, and your financial situation, as to whether to take additional efforts to protect what you have.
Earlier this year, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, in conjunction with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, made the initial step of identification a little bit easier. The agencies launched an IP Awareness Assessment tool that is located at http://www.uspto.gov/inventors/assessment/. Participants are asked to answer 62 questions, a number that can be pared down by completing a pre-assessment to eliminate areas of intellectual property that are not applicable. The full 62-question assessment takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete. All participants are asked questions aimed at assessing their knowledge base in five categories:
• Intellectual Property Strategies & Best Practices
• International Intellectual Property Rights
• Intellectual Property Asset Tracking
• Licensing Technology to Others
• Using Technology of Others
Following the completion of the Assessment, participants are provided with "customized" training materials to help them increase their knowledge.
We have taken this Assessment, providing hypothetical answers to see the types of assessments and training materials that are provided. We like the tool and recommend it even for those individuals who consider themselves IP-savvy. It is useful not only for the business owners and inventors who may have intellectual property of their own, but also for those who may work with those individuals (such as accountants and lawyers). The recommended training materials are likewise helpful, and can be reviewed at any time and at no cost.
After completing the Assessment and reviewing the training materials, you may have additional questions, or may wish to take additional actions to protect your intellectual property. At that point, we very much recommend that you contact an intellectual property attorney for consultation. It is tempting to do your own research on the Internet or to attempt to file your own patent or trademark application; however, having had to clean up more than a few of these after the fact, we believe that you will save money in the long run by consulting with an attorney in advance. You may still find that there are many actions you can take yourself, and you may find that the "expert advice" from the Internet is wrong and you don’t have to take certain actions at all. Please contact David Goeschel, Linda Dammann, or Roberta Christensen of Koley Jessen’s Intellectual Property Practice Group if you require additional assistance after completing the Assessment.
by Roberta L. Christensen