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Intellectual property and small business

Jun 10, 2012



A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Entrepreneur Network, a partnership of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.


Intellectual Property and Small Business

Karen Kitchens, Intellectual Property/Documents Librarian, Wyoming State Library,


Knowledge and ideas have always been a powerful force in economic development.  As a small business owner, Intellectual Property (IP) is a key consideration in your day-to-day business decisions.  IP is an important component of the United States economy, and the U.S. is an acknowledged global leader in the creation of IP.  According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, “Americans are the world’s leading innovators, and our ideas and intellectual property are a key ingredient to our competitiveness and prosperity.”[1]


Unfortunately, businesses often fail to protect their valuable IP because IP is not tangible property.  IP has no physical form.  Examples might be a method of doing business, an Internet domain name, or a company’s marketing material.  Often, this intangible property is more valuable than real or personal property. The commercial value of IP comes from the ability of its owner to control and exploit its use.  


The term “Intellectual Property” might sound a bit pompous.  But in reality, it is a very good description for the proprietary interests of individuals and businesses, protected by the laws of IP.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office defines IP as, “Creations of the mind -creative works or ideas embodied in a form that can be shared or can enable others to recreate, emulate, or manufacture them.”  Globalization of the world’s economies has significantly increased the need for information about IP.    


There are four ways to protect IP - patents, which pertain to pragmatic innovations; trademarks, which relate to commercial symbols; copyrights, which concerns artistic and literary works; and trade secrets, which consist of valuable business information that is not generally known and is subject to reasonable efforts to preserve confidentiality.  Some IP rights – copyrights and trademark rights are granted automatically upon creation or use of the IP assets without any action needed by the creator.  Other IP rights, such as patents, require action on the part of the creator in addition to considerable expense. 


This series will review the four types of IP rights and how each may affect your business.  For example, developing and protecting your IP assets and rights can give you an edge over the competition by discouraging unscrupulous competitors, developing new revenue sources, and increasing the value of your company.  IP is a valuable business asset that must be managed and protected like any other asset.



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Laramie, WY 82071-3922. Additional help is available on our website

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301 Report Finds Continued Progress But Significant Improvements Needed. 2004.
Office of the United States Trade Representative Archive. 30 May 2012 <

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