Small businesses and nonprofits often have little (or no) marketing budget, relying instead on Do-It-Yourself promotions. Kudos to those with the time and talent to do so, but be aware of intellectual property laws if you do.
Small business owners and nonprofits have an obligation to understand basic intellectual property law; or at least be aware of it and know when to ask questions. Willful ignorance is not an excuse to misappropriating someone else's intellectual property.
What is intellectual property? In very, very general terms, it is a creation for which you can obtain a patent, trademark, or copyright and for which you can receive legal protections that limit how and when others can use it. Example of intellectual property you encounter daily are logos, slogans, book jackets, published writings (including blogs), artwork, and even the design of your cereal box or shape of your shampoo bottle.
How can I infringe on someone's intellectual property rights?
These are just three common examples. There are many, many more ways to infringe (accidentally or intentionally) on another's intellectual property. It is worth the small cost of professional advice to ensure your marketing materials do not violate another's property rights.
Think of this: if you spent a lot of time and money developing a protectable work, you would be upset to find others using it, distributing it, and even making money from it without your consent.
Lastly, remember to take the steps necessary to also protect your intellectual property (which will be discussed in a future post).
Christine Jarzab Kuntz is an attorney specializing in the life cycle of businesses and nonprofit organizations. She is enthusiastic to share her knowledge, tools, and tips with the business and nonprofit community. She enjoys the excitement of tutoring start-ups, tackling the challenges of established businesses, and counseling her clients' transitions through all stages of the business life cycle.