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My hobby is becoming a business! How can I protect my intellectual property rights?

"I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes ... ."
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Now that we've settled into week 3 of the New Year, I'd like to speak directly to those of you who decided that 2016 is the year you will take the side project that you were doing for pure enjoyment and creative fulfillment from basement hobby to dream career.

Whether you've started selling those homemade candies or jars of jam, or invented a new board game for your friends to play, or decided to self-publish your novel, this can be an exciting time. But before you unleash your creative energy onto the world, take heed-your intellectual property may be worth a lot more than you think it is.

That is why it is so critical to take the necessary steps to protect that IP at the outset. As an entertainment and business lawyer, I have had the privilege of helping numerous creative entrepreneurs take the necessary steps to protect and enforce their intellectual property rights. Here are some questions you should ask:

  1. Will copyright law, trademark law, or patent law protect my art/writing/invention/brand/logo/name/likeness?
  2. If so, are the protections automatic or do I have to affirmatively apply for them?
  3. Which specific rights of mine are protected by which specific IP laws?
  4. How can I allow others to see/use/sell/resell my work without jeopardizing my rights or the value of my work?

You may also want to know if you are accidently infringing someone else's IP rights, and if so, what kind of alterations you could make to your plan so as not to violate someone else's rights. It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of starting a new endeavor and finding people interested in your creative vision. But before you know it, you may have inadvertently agreed to a deal that could restrict your ability to fully monetize your project.

Most of all, keep in mind that just because you are new to a particular enterprise does not mean that your work is deserving of any less protection than the most well-established artists in your field.

What else should I know before starting my business?

Beyond your IP rights, you may have lots of other questions, too:

  1. Should I structure my business using a formal business entity (LLC, Corporation, etc.), and if so, which one should I chose? (Learn more about the various business entities here.)
  2. Should I be entering into contracts with suppliers/vendors/customers?
  3. If so, what types of language and provisions should the contracts contain?
  4. How can I protect myself from being sued by customers/clients/employees?

That's where lawyers like me come in. We want to see you succeed and are ready to help you with the details - the details you find complex, but we find fascinating.

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