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Wyoming Business Tips for June 24-June 30

June 18, 2012

A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.

By Karen Kitchens, Wyoming State Library, intellectual property/documents librarian

“Can you please explain Intellectual Property for me as a small business owner?” Dana, Afton

Knowledge and ideas have always been a powerful force in economic development. For a small business owner, Intellectual Property (IP) is a key consideration in day-to-day business decisions.

IP is an important component of the United States economy, and the U.S. is an acknowledged global leader in the creation of IP. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, “Americans are the world’s leading innovators, and our ideas and intellectual property are a key ingredient to our competitiveness and prosperity.”

Unfortunately, business owners often fail to protect their valuable IP because it is not tangible property and has no physical form. Examples might be a method of doing business, an Internet domain name, or a company’s marketing material.

Often, this intangible property is more valuable than real or personal property. The commercial value of IP comes from the ability of its owner to control and exploit its use.

The term “Intellectual Property” might sound a bit pompous. But, in reality, it is a very good description for the proprietary interests of individuals and businesses, protected by the laws of IP. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office defines IP as, “Creations of the mind --- creative works or ideas embodied in a form that can be shared or can enable others to recreate, emulate, or manufacture them.” Globalization of the world’s economies has significantly increased the need for information about IP.

There are four ways to protect IP: patents, which pertain to pragmatic innovations; trademarks, which relate to commercial symbols; copyrights, which concerns artistic and literary works; and trade secrets, which consist of valuable business information that is not generally known and is subject to reasonable efforts to preserve confidentiality.

Some IP rights -- copyrights and trademark rights -- are granted automatically upon creation or use of the IP assets without any action needed by the creator. Other IP rights, such as patents, require action on the part of the creator in addition to considerable expense.

This series will review the four types of IP rights and how each may affect your business. For example, developing and protecting your IP assets and rights can give you an edge over the competition by discouraging unscrupulous competitors, developing new revenue sources, and increasing the value of your company.

IP is a valuable business asset that must be managed and protected like any other asset.

A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at

The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, email or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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