Patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets—these are the assets that we call intellectual property (IP). Let’s look at each class of IP assets in turn, and then get started in building your IP portfolio.

     I. Patents, trade secrets and copyrights

Patents are vital to businesses that create proprietary new technologies to make better products for more sales and profits. Rocket science is not required. Simple improvements may be patentable and profitable. See 4 W’s of Patent.

Trade secrets are great—so long as they’re secret. Lock the doors and computers, put confidentiality agreements in place, and hope your competitors won’t reverse engineer your products.

Copyrights are treasures for authors, publishers, software providers, and movie studios. Disney knows what a copyright is worth. Microsoft vigorously enforces its copyrights against unauthorized software users.

patents,  trade secrets and copyrights have tangible value

These intangible assets—patents, trade secrets and copyrights—have tangible value for companies that have the foresight to protect them. They help build market leadership, revenues and margins, and they attract capital investment. There’s real money for the owners of the businesses that own those forms of IP.

     II. Trademarks

Your name—your brand—your trademark—that has great worth for every business, and it’s a good cornerstone for your IP portfolio.

If you’ve been in business for a year or more, your brand has real value because it’s recognized in the marketplace. Your customers buy in confidence because they know the source and quality of your product. They know that you stand behind it.

     A. Great brands

Amazon, Apple and Google are this year’s trademark leaders, each having brand equity in the hundreds of billions of dollars. They’re tech companies.

Chanel is a brand leader, too, almost solely through its trademark. You’re not in luxury goods? Neither is Heineken, though it is a premium beer. Neither is Walmart, not very sexy, but still plugging along. See the full list of top brands and insights published by BrandZ, affiliated with WPP, the world’s largest advertising agency.

What kind of trademark is that, by the way, WPP, the acronym of the obscure Wire and Plastic Products plc? I’m not a fan of acronyms as trademarks. If the biggest ad agency in the world is anonymous, do you think your acronym stands out from the crowd? But if that’s where you’ve chosen to stand, you might as well protect your turf.

Before we leave the list of top brands, let’s remember that as the symbol of your company, the value of your brand rises and falls with the performance of your business. When GE stumbled in banking, power and other far-flung businesses, its stock and its brand fell, too.

Give your brand loving care, yes, and fill your brand with quality and performance, too.

     B. Your trademark

Your trademark might not be among the world’s most valuable marks, but it is one of the most valuable assets of your successful company. I love niche businesses with specialized products and markets. Your trademark attracts investment. It generates sales and profits. It adds to your bottom line.

your trademark has great worth

You wouldn’t leave your wallet or your purse sitting on a park bench, where anybody could walk by and take it. Yet business owners routinely ignore their trademarks. Based on my experience as an intellectual property lawyer, I would estimate that fewer than 1 of 10 businesses register their trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Fortunately for the unsophisticated American business owner, the U.S. common law provides some protection for unregistered trademarks.

1 of 10 register their trademarks

But oh the trouble that comes from failure to register!

Registered marks are, well, on the register. They’re visible to your competitors and to trademark examining attorneys. They have significant deterrent effect against competitors. They are easier to enforce, and the remedies are stronger.

Unregistered trademarks, on the other hand, are under the radar. They invite thieves to filch them.

who steals my purse steals trash, but he that filches my good name makes me poor indeed

Here’s what we’re seeing: Local businesses that have been operating successfully for years are being steamrolled by national companies that have registered the very same trademarks that have long been used by the local businesses. If you’re the local business, you can fight back, but it’s tough to fight Goliath.

we’re seeing national companies steamroll local business trademarks

Honor your good name—promote your brand—protect your trademark.


Don’t let anyone roll over you and your business. Register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.