Think you’ve got the best product? Time to protect it.

The U.S. government provides a wide range of protections for businesses that offer unique products or services. This goes beyond the item itself, such as how it is marketed and displayed. (Think of Nike’s swoosh logo, the selection and arrangement of colors on Pepsi or Coke cans, or the musical tones of Pentium computer chips at the end of commercials.)

Intellectual property and copyright law can get complex at times, but the general principles are simple: if you believe part of your business plan is unique and you want to keep others from copying it, you need to register it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

In some cases, you can start putting the little ‘r’ and the year on your items without officially registering it, but it’s smarter to go through the process before someone else beats you to it.

Companies working on their business plans should already be figuring out what makes them stand out from the competition and brings value to their brand. Patent and Trademark Office officials take these distinctions particularly seriously, no matter how minor.

Consider these areas to look for when detailing your business plan include asking:

Will it be confused by anyone else?

It’s likely that someone else might have a similar name. But confusion doesn’t have to occur if both of you offer something different to a different region or customer base.

What impression do people make of your company?

This question can be answered in your business plan, showing how you stand out from your competitors.

What are your sales channels?

One way to distinguish yourself from others with your name is who you sell your product to. If the only company with your name sells food and you sell computer software, there’s less chance of possible confusion.


Related to this is where you sell your product. If there’s a restaurant with your name on the East Coast and you sell engineering supplies in California, customers may never know.

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