• December 22, 2020

Small Business Beat: Keeping Intellectual Property ‘Safer at Home’

Small Business Beat: Keeping Intellectual Property ‘Safer at Home’

Small Business Beat: Keeping Intellectual Property ‘Safer at Home’ 150 150 Business & Worker Disaster Help Center
By the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs in partnership with Bet Tzedek Legal Services

UPDATED Dec. 21, 2020

Note: These FAQs provide general guidance on how small businesses in the Los Angeles area can comply with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and reopening procedures. Each business owner must carefully evaluate the applicable orders to determine the compliance steps required for their individual business. This document does not constitute legal advice.

It has been nine months since many workers across the United States sequestered themselves in their homes, doing their best to carry on remotely in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic. By necessity, workers cleverly converted their kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and garages into makeshift offices, often times working alongside the distraction of family members, animal companions, and neighbors. What at first seemed like an unavoidable, temporary solution, has transformed into the “new normal” with more businesses considering remote work arrangements beyond COVID-19. At first glance, the idea of remote work may seem beneficial to businesses and workers alike – office space and overhead savings, reduced commute time, work-life balance – but it presents unique confidentiality and data protection challenges to business owners.

Here are some steps business owners can take to protect their trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets in the remote work environment:

Trademark: Protect your business name, phrases, logos and designs.

  • Clear and Register Trademarks and Advertising Slogans. Maintain the reputation and value of your brand by registering trademarks and advertising slogans. Visit the gov website for databases of existing trademarks, and electronic application instructions. The current Standard Application Fee is $275 per class of goods and/or services.
  • Monitor the marketplace and take action against infringing use of your trademark. Work-from-home means more e-commerce and more instances of counterfeiting, fraudulent use of brands, and fake websites. Regularly scan the internet using search engines for imposter marks or websites. Consider using a trademark watch service to monitor trademark filings for similar marks. The annual fee is $30-40.
  • Set up brand registry accounts on platforms like Amazon and eBay where you list your registered trademarks to prevent the listing and sale of counterfeit goods.
  • Record trademark registrations with Customs and Border Protection and report fraud/counterfeiting to the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration. gov provides information at their Coronavirus Resource Center.

Copyright: Advertising copy, theme songs, photographs, publications, or instructional manuals are all examples of copyrightable works that businesses should protect.

  • Include a Copyright Notice. Copyright ownership exists from the moment an original work is created. Put a copyright notice on all original works – even if you don’t register your work with the Copyright Office. Make sure the notice is visible. This will reduce the likelihood of infringement. For example:  © 2020 BUSINESS NAME
  • Police the Internet for use of your content. Set up Google alerts with your business name and/or products, and regularly monitor the search results.
  • Register your work for copyright. The Copyright Office is currently closed, but accepts and processes applications electronically. Registration of your work puts others on notice that you are the legal owner. Basic registrations are $65.00. Processing times currently range from 1-3 months.
  • Be Vigilant During Virtual Meetings and Telephone Conferences. Be careful about sharing too much with too many! You may not be able to monitor all attendants, and meetings may be recorded and shared later. Limit disclosure of creative ideas and works to private settings and then only on a “need to know” basis.

Trade Secrets: A trade secret is something used in a company’s business that is not known by competitors and has commercial value. Trade secrets are protected without registration or any other formality, but only under one condition: The secret must remain a secret.

  • Clearly mark or otherwise label trade secret and confidential information in all communications. For example, you may put a label, footer, or digital watermark on confidential documents.
  • Establish protocols for employee and contractors, and send regular reminders.
    • Shred documents that include confidential information.
    • Do not use personal e-mail to transmit confidential documents.
    • Save confidential information and documents only on company storage systems.
    • Perform work only on company computers, if possible.
    • Select safe, encrypted methods of transferring confidential documents.
    • Carefully evaluate the teleconference applications. Lock down permissions in applications such as Zoom, so that you are in control of the entry and removal of participants.
  • Limit access of trade secret information only to those who need it. Restrict access to specific systems, drives, databases, programs, or documents.
  • Use secure document exchange systems rather than emails, which may be vulnerable to attack.
  • Request employees and contractors with access to trade secrets to sign Non-Disclosure and/or Confidentiality Agreements. These are contracts in which the employee or contractor promises to protect the confidentiality of secret information.

Email Best Practices:

  • Limit messaging threads to one topic, like one product, one idea, or one question.
  • Limit circulation of confidential messages to a controlled group.
  • Mark messages “Confidential” so that the group is aware of the sensitive nature of the communication.
  • Be explicit about not sharing email messages.
  • Avoid forwarding messaging threads, and advise employees and colleagues to avoid this practice.
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