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International IP Protection: Expanding Your Small Business Globally

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Your small business’s intellectual property (IP) is among the most valuable assets in your company. Your intellectual property includes such intangible assets as copyrights, patents, names, logos, designs, automated processes, and trade secrets. These are your business’ – your brand’s – defining traits, the first things people see when they look you up. They need proper legal protections to safeguard your business’s future success. Protecting your brand can give your company a leg-up over the competition, help you define your business culture, assist you with marketing, and provide a substantial revenue stream.

While a copyright is automatically assumed by the creator of content in the United States, our copyright law does not necessarily extend beyond our borders. As you consider taking your small business international, you must also consider how you may protect your intellectual property from those seeking to profit from it by less than legal means. There is no international law about copyrights and trademarks. However, some U.S. copyrights may be recognized internationally. And if not, there are often ways to copyright your works in a foreign country.

First, you should familiarize yourself with your foreign business partners and the trademark or copyright laws in their native countries. Then, before you go worrying about how to secure a copyright overseas, fortify your copyright Stateside by officially registering it with the help of a copyright attorney.

How to Protect Your Intellectual Property Rights Overseas?

Many countries have signed on to one of several different international intellectual property protection treaties. Some of these treaties, including the Berne Convention, which dates back to the 1800s, do not officially require you to register your work for a copyright. You should consider working with lawyers in America and abroad to ensure your copyright is protected overseas.

Those with a patent registered in the U.S. should know that their patent is only valid and recognized in our country. This is at least part of why some American inventors complain about ‘knockoffs’ being made overseas. You must file for a patent in a specific nation to protect your invention. To do that, you must already have a U.S. patent.

Trademarks are treated similarly to patents, as the U.S. has not signed any treaties to extend trademark protections internationally. Some nations have relatively easy and straightforward approaches to filing for a trademark in their lands. However, others make it more difficult. As always, speaking with a lawyer about your concerns before branching out overseas is highly advisable.

What Are the Risks to Your IPs When You Bring Your Business to the Global Stage?

Applying for trademark, patent, and copyright protections should be among your first steps as you expand your small business globally. Failure to do so could leave some of your business’s most prized assets vulnerable in the new foreign market. To accomplish this, it’s strongly recommended that you work with a lawyer Stateside and an attorney local to the country you’re moving into. The foreign and U.S. lawyers can assist each other as you move your small business to the new setting and protect your intellectual property on the long voyage.

Your legal team will keep you apprised of the new country’s IP guidelines so you are not caught unawares. Then, they will guide you through the registration process. Be wary about working with independent contractors you do not know, especially in the early stages of your business’s new global move. Rather, work closely with your legal team to help vet new hires and write your contracts satisfactorily.

Working with a foreign partner local to the new country you’re expanding to is often advisable. If your business creates new material or data, it can be challenging to prove that those materials belong to you, the outsider. Having a foreign subsidiary work as a partner can help establish a legal presence in the country, better safeguarding your interests.

What is the ‘Madrid Protocol?’

Established in 1891, the Madrid Protocol helps businesses register trademarks in multiple countries. This can act as a shortcut, allowing you to skip registering one country at a time. The efficiency of using the Madrid Protocol can also save you money, making it worth looking into and taking advantage of.

Via the Madrid Protocol, a business owner can file a single trademark application, pay a set of fees, and have their trademark registered in over a hundred countries in one fell swoop. Global superpowers like China and the European Union are included among these countries in the Madrid Protocol.

Before taking advantage of the protocol, ensure that an older, overly similar trademark is not already in existence.

What Are Popular Methods for Expanding Your Small Business Internationally?

There are many methods and systems out there that people recommend to small businesses looking to expand onto the global stage.

Here are just a few:

  • Start by registering your trademarks, patents, and copyrights in the United States before branching out internationally.
  • Determine where you need IP protections.
  • Take advantage of the Madrid Protocol.
  • Seek out ‘trademark priority.’
  • Merging with a foreign company may be easier than moving your company overseas.
  • Exporting is a good entry-level way to enter the global stage.
  • Consider licensing arrangements.
  • Form a partnership with a foreign country to establish a legal entity on foreign soil.
  • Hire professional legal counsel.

Contact Our Legal Team Today to Schedule an In-Depth Case Review

Protecting your IP is vital to ensuring the future success of your small business as you expand globally. But it’s not as simple as registering everything Stateside and expecting those registries to be reflected overseas. Work with Lankford Law Firm to determine the global expansion risks and rewards. We can help you register your IP and work on a business plan that allows you to meet your goals in expansion.

To speak with a member of our legal staff, please get in touch with our Central Florida-based law firm at 850-888-8992.

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