Taking Action to Protect Your Secret Sauce: Part One
Calling all entrepreneurs, we both know you have “it” - that secret sauce that sets you apart from your competitors. This is your competitive advantage - the thing that will draw in your ideal customers and take you to the top of your industry.
Legally, your secret sauce is known as your intellectual property (IP). When you think of IP, what comes to mind? Most likely it’s patents, trademarks, and copyrights, and you’re absolutely right, but what you might not know is that those are only a few of the ways to protect what makes you and your business unique and special.
In part one of this two-part blog, we set out some things you might not have considered when it comes to your employees, business relationships, and customers.
The first place you can protect your secret sauce is in your employment agreements. Employees are given unique access and insight into your IP, therefore each employment agreement should contain language stating that anything an employee creates while working for you belongs to your business and that they will keep your company secrets confidential during and after their employment with you.
Company Intellectual Property Policy
With business growth comes change and the need for more hands-on deck, so it’s a good idea to address IP at a company level as well. An IP policy makes it clear to employees how various types of IP are to be used, handled, and shared. This builds IP protection into the foundation of your business and makes it more likely your IP will be protected long term.
Written Customer Agreements
IP protections aren’t just for those who work within your business. They should also be considered when working with customers outside your four walls. A written customer agreement should include language about who owns the rights to the services or products offered under the agreement and language around confidentiality, protecting you on a wider scale.
Using Vendor/Supplier Agreements
Working with outside vendors is a common part of any small business but can also pose a risk to your IP. Vendor agreements should therefore contain provisions to make sure vendors are legally required to keep anything they learned that isn’t available to the public confidential, both during and after their work with you.
Sometimes it’s applicable to allow someone to use your IP. When that happens, it’s important to be clear about your expectations. You should therefore have a license agreement with them that explains how they can use your IP, how much they pay for that use, how long they can use it for, and the repercussions of not following the terms in the license agreement. This will give you some peace of mind as you grow your business.