Seminar teaches small business owners about intellectual property law

BRADENTON — Douglas Cherry, Greg Hoffmann, Julee Milham and Richard Randolph all have something in common.

They believe that small business owners need to be aware of and understand their intellectual property rights.

So they are participating in an April 11 Copyrights and Trade Secrets seminar being offered free to local small business owners through a collaboration by Manasota SCORE and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.

The seminar is the second of three on intellectual property law. The first one in November dealt with trademarks and the last one coming Nov. 7 will focus on patents, said Richard Randolph, SCORE community outreach team leader.

Nearly 100 people participated in the first seminar, which was conducted by an official with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“People started asking us, ‘What do you have on copyrights and patents,’ so we decided to do a series for the small business owner,” he said.

Topics to be covered include common assumptions and risks about copyrights and trade secrets and how to avoid them, what is fair use, what impact do the Internet and social media have and what can business owners do to protect themselves and when to hire an attorney.

Douglas Cherry, a partner in the Sarasota office of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP, says the small business owner can get confused because many of the principles involved in intellectual property law

are counter-intuitive.

“We want to give the public tips on how to avoid legal headaches in an easily digestible manner,” he said. “We have to explain complex principles in layman terms.”

With technology advancing and the Internet spreading information globally, Cherry said it has created “a sense of entitlement” among many who think little of using material they find on the web.

“Even in the corporate environment, employees can put massive files on a thumb drive in a matter of seconds,” he said.

Some common misconceptions about copyright law is the I-paid-for-it, I-own-it attitude which isn’t always right, Cherry said. For example, if you paid a web designer to create a web site for your business, many business people think they own the site.

“But unless it is in writing, that’s not the case,” he said. “The web designer actually owns it.”

If you pay a photographer to take pictures of you and your family at a wedding, the photographer owns the photos and they can’t be copied without permission unless the rights are reassigned, Cherry said.

Greg Hoffmann, a certified circuit and federal court mediator as well as an arbitrator and another panelist for the April 11 seminar, thinks understanding intellectual property law is vital to a small business owner.

“It is extremely important because small-business owners, by definition, are creators of content,” he said. “They need to understand what it is they own, what others own, and what they need to do and don’t need to do to protect their work.”

When small business owners starts their businesses, they create processes and procedures that can fall under the title of trade secrets that need to be protected, especially from competitors, Hoffmann and Cherry said.

Cherry handled a recent case where an employee left a business and within a short time the business soon recognized its northern competitor was using the same templates it had developed. Documents like non-disclosure agreements are necessary to protect a business’ proprietary information, he said.

Cherry and Hoffmann agreed that there is a tendency for small-business owners to think they don’t need to worry about intellectual property issues as much as big corporations.

“But I think it is as important to small business as an accountant,” said Hoffmann, who also teaches business courses at Webster University.

“Most small business owners doesn’t realize how important it (intellectual property) is until they get into trouble,” Cherry said.

Julee Milham, who practices business, intellectual property, and entertainment law locally, is also presenting at the seminar.



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