So you’ve finally thought of the idea that will launch your entrepreneurial dreams into a reality. Or perhaps you’re already working steadily away at your small business. Whatever stage you’re at, one of the key vulnerabilities facing your business involves your intellectual property.

It seem like an unlikely situation to find yourself in, however, intellectual property misappropriation and theft does occur – even to small businesses like yours.

What then, can you do to ensure that you don’t find yourself embroiled in a dispute to protect your intellectual property?

One simple measure you can take is to acquaint yourself with the following 4 documents. By developing an idea about the role each resource can play in protecting your intellectual property, you’ll be better prepared to counter any threats to your company’s sensitive, valuable, or confidential information.

1. Non-disclosure agreement

A Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), otherwise known as a Confidentiality Agreement, is one of the main legal documents companies employ to protect their intellectual property. A well-written NDA is vital if you plan to enter into a relationship with another party and have confidential information at stake.

An NDA will legally document the relationship between you as the ‘disclosing party’, and the other business or individual as the ‘receiving party’. It represents an agreement by the receiving party that they will not disclose or utilize the specified sensitive, technical, or nonpublic information regarding your company that you allow them to become privy to.

What are some examples of confidential information your company have?

  • An original product or service your company developed
  • Client information – your customer contact details, email addresses of your newsletter subscribers etc.
  • Manufacturing and distribution information – details of how and where you manufacture and distribute your product or service
  • Management information – information pertaining to the inner workings of your company and its associated online and offline operations

Non-disclosure agreements aren’t just for business-to-business relationships. They can also be used to protect your sensitive information from potential or actual employees in your company.

Interview non-disclosure agreement

If you’re looking to hire a new employee, and will need to reveal sensitive company information in the interview stage, you should consider asking interviewees to sign an interview non-disclosure agreement. This document makes it clear to the interviewee that they will face legal repercussions if they further discuss any confidential information revealed in the interview.

Employee non-disclosure agreement

In order to notify newly hired or current employees that they are prohibited from discussing confidential matters outside of work, you can ask them to sign an employee non-disclosure agreement. Just like a standard NDA, it outlines their legal responsibilities in keeping such information to themselves, as well as the subsequent repercussions if they fail to do so.

2. Cease and desist letter

You may not envision ever having to issue a Cease and Desist Letter, but it is still vital to learn how it works as part of your efforts to protect your company’s intellectual property. A Cease and Desist Letter is a document sent to a business or individual which formally asks a company to halt unlawful and trademark infringing behavior against your company.

While this document can be used to respond to range of problematic situations, it has particular pertinence to instances of copyright and trademark infringement.

Imagine one day you discover that another company or individual is using something similar or identical to your company’s registered trademark or copyrighted material for their own advantage. You will need to take quick action before your company suffers financial loss or confusion about your brand.

Your first step to counter the problem should be to issue the infringing party a Cease and Desist letter. A Cease and Desist letter allows you to clearly state your opposition to the offender’s actions, and inform them that if they do not stop you will take legal action.

In many cases, a Cease and Desist letter is all that is needed to halt the unlawful action from continuing. Attempting to first halt the action with a C&D letter is desirable for many reasons – not least because it saves your company the considerable time and money it costs to sue over trademark or copyright infringement.

3. Licensing agreement

A detailed Licensing Agreement is another resource which is certain to prove useful to any company with intellectual property. This legal document is used when you want to give permission to another party to use your copyright, patent, trademark, service mark, trade secret, or other form of intellectual property like an invention or creative work.

By requiring the other party to agree to your Licensing Agreement, you can establish the terms in which your intellectual property can or can’t be used. It allows you to set out terms such as: who can use or sublicense your IP, the time period they can use it for, and the price of the license.

Without a Licensing Agreement, you won’t be able to control how your intellectual property is used by others, nor profit from third party use of it. It is for this reason a Licensing Agreement is a critical document when it comes to protecting a company’s intellectual property.

4. Terms of use agreement

If you own a website, particularly one with an e-commerce platform or one which offers a service that retains users’ personal data, creating a Terms of Use Agreement should be a primary consideration for your business.

A Terms of Use Agreement allows you to communicate policies regarding your service or product to your users. One of the key policies you can inform your users of via this agreement is about the use of your company’s intellectual property.

Your Terms of Use Agreement can make it clear that your company owns and has the license for all website content, and the logos, trademarks, and service marks of your company that appear on the website. It also defines which information is protected by copyright law, registered and unregistered trademarks, database rights, and other intellectual property rights.

Imposing limitations on the way your website users utilize your intellectual property will help prevent your company’s intellectual property from being unlawfully used.

This rundown is intended to help companies learn how to better protect their sensitive, valuable, or confidential information. By forming an understanding of the 4 legal documents listed, you can more confidently take steps to secure your company’s intellectual property.

Monica Mizzi is the editor and legal writer for LegalTemplates.net, a website which equips people with the right tools and free legal documents to become their own legal advocates.