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So you’ve put all this work into your business: you’ve got a name, you’ve made some marketing materials, even written some things for your customers. If you don’t want your competitors to be able to take what you’ve done and exploit it, though, you’re going to need to take some steps to protect yourself.
Your name is one of the most important assets your business has — it’s how your customers identify you. Knowing your name is the first step to trusting you and recommending you to others. But what can you do if you’re afraid that someone else might start using your name, or simply start another company with a similar enough name to confuse people?
You can trademark both your business’ name as well as the names of any products you sell. The only condition is that they can’t be too similar to names that someone has already trademarked, and you can’t usually trademark words that are in common use.
Copyrights are similar to trademarks in terms of the kind of protection they offer, but different in how they work. In almost all countries, ownership of copyright is automatic, and costs nothing. The moment you write (or draw, or record) something, you own the copyright on it, and can take action against anyone who makes a copy of it without your permission. This article you’re reading right now, for example, has the automatic copyright. If you decided to copy it without permission and put it on your own website, then that would be illegal. Not that you would do such a thing, of course.
A copyright lasts longer than a trademark: typically it lasts until you die, and then a set number of years after that, depending on your country and the kind of thing that was copyrighted. After the end of this time, the work becomes ‘public domain’, free for anyone to use.
Of course, copyright is a right, not something that you absolutely must go along with. If you want to give people permission to freely use and redistribute something you’ve made, then you have the legal right to do this. You can even give up your copyright on a piece of work altogether, simply by writing on it that you no longer want to own the copyright.
“In the business world an executive knows something about everything, a technician knows everything about something and the switchboard operator knows everything.”
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