Business Posts

Startup Basics: Intellectual Property for Small Business Owners

As a business owner, you may want to seek protection for a product or service, a new invention, or printed material. There are three main types of intellectual property protection: patents, trademarks, and copyrights. All three are different from each other, and from business name registration, so it’s important to make sure which, if any, are appropriate for your business.

This post is for informational purposes only and nothing here should be taken as advice or direction. Before applying for intellectual property protection, consult a legal professional, such as an intellectual property attorney.

In general, a trademark typically protects brand names and logos used on goods and services; a patent protects an invention; and copyright protects an original artistic or literary work. For example, if you invent a new kind of product, you would apply for a patent to protect the invention itself. You would apply to register a trademark to protect the brand name of the product. And you might register a copyright for the TV commercial or advertisement that you use to market the product.

Trademarks

A trademark (also called a servicemark or tradename) typically protects the brand names and logos used on goods and services, not the name of a business. However, using your business name as a source of goods or services might qualify it as both a trademark and a business name.

Federal trademarks are obtained from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Application fees depend on the filing basis selected and which initial application form is used. You must use your trademark in more than one state to qualify for a federal trademark.

State trademarks exist, but they’re not necessary if your trademark is already registered at the federal level. They don’t offer the same level of protection as federal trademarks, but they do provide additional protection that your mark can’t be used by another entity; basically, your mark is added to a state list and anyone who checks it will see that you own that mark. In Illinois, you must use your mark in the state and provide examples of use before you can register it. Any individual, firm, partnership, LLC, corporation, association, or union can register with the Illinois Secretary of State for a $10 fee.

Patents

A patent gives legal recognition to the inventor, creator, or discoverer of a new product, procedure, or composition of matter. You may obtain a patent by fulfilling all the requirements of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. There are three different types of patents: utility, design, and plant.

A patent application is prepared by the inventor, possibly with the help of a patent attorney. The first step is a search to make sure the invention is new, unique, non-obvious, and (in the case of a utility patent) useful. The USPTO website outlines a seven-step search process; you can also go to a Patent Trademark Research Center—in Illinois there are two locations: the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington branch and Western Illinois University’s Malpass Library, in Macomb, Illinois.

The application is filed with and examined by the USPTO. There is an application fee, and maintenance fees may also apply.

Copyright

While a patent protects an invention or discovery (i.e., an idea), a copyright protects original works of authorship (which may include the expression of that idea). In general, copyright allows an author to control the copying of his or her work. Digital content like apps, blogs, and websites may also be protected by copyright, as can blueprints, advertisements, videos, and TV commercials.

Technically, original works are protected by copyright as soon as they are fixed in a tangible form. Registering your copyright is voluntary; however, it must be registered in order for you to sue someone for copyright infringement.

To register, you would file an application with the Library of Congress and provide the necessary forms, fees, and copies specified for that particular type of work. The average processing time for applications is 4 months, and you’ll receive a certificate of registration.

The Library of Congress maintains a database of copyright registrations (40 million and counting), which can be searched back to 1978. It can take several months for current registrations to appear there.
Intellectual Property Resources

More information about intellectual property, as well as application forms, can be found on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website and on the websites of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Library of Congress.

The Naperville Public Library print collection offers several excellent books on the subject that may be helpful to the startup entrepreneur:



The library’s online resource LinkedIn Learning also offers several intellectual property courses, including “deeper dives” into patents, trademarks, and copyright. (A Naperville Public Library card is required to use this resource.)

For more information about this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy workshop series or scheduling a one-on-one appointment with a business librarian or NaperLaunch coach.

Posted: 
Monday, July 19, 2021 - 10:45

5 Hidden Expectations of Investors

When an entrepreneur makes a pitch in front of a venture capitalist or angel investor, there are some standard expectations of the presentation. However, the potential investor may also have some less obvious expectations with regard to the impression made and confidence conveyed by the entrepreneur. The physical content of the pitch deck slides is significantly important, but perhaps more important are the lasting impressions that the content conveys. In this blog post, we will describe five things an investor expects a pitcher to know.

  1. Know what is needed. First and foremost, the entrepreneur must demonstrate a clear understanding of how much money is needed and exactly how that money will be used. A vague request for a large sum is meaningless, and perhaps downright offensive, if the entrepreneur can’t specifically account for how it will be used and identify the expected increase in revenue and profits as a result of the investment. Know exactly what is needed, how it will be used, and what will be the result of getting the money in terms of sales and profits.
  2. Know the market. The entrepreneur must also demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the market. Know what customer needs your product or service satisfies. Know the customer buying behaviors of the market segment and have a clear understanding of why customers buy the product or service. Additionally, know and demonstrate clear understanding of the pricing strategy and how the competition can be beaten. A simple way to prepare to meet this expectation is to complete a SWOT analysis and demonstrate knowledge of that analysis through a discussion of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  3. Know the operations. A third expectation of investors is to verify that the entrepreneur is deeply knowledgeable about the operations of the business. For example, what are the vendors and why were those vendors chosen? The pitch deck content must demonstrate enough granular understanding of personnel, customer service, delivery of products and services, and payment requirements to assure the investors that the entrepreneur understands exactly how the business operates from top to bottom.
  4. Know the team. Next, the entrepreneur’s presentation must show a keen vision of the “team.” Who is on the team and why? What are the strengths of each member and how will they make the team a winner? Each individual in the business must contribute to overall success and the business owner has to know why that person is there and how they contribute. An investor is looking for expense “fat” and will want to make sure each person is needed and that the employee’s salary expense is worth it.
  5. Know the exit strategy. Lastly, an investor expects the entrepreneur to have an exit strategy. How will debt be returned to any lenders? How will equity be resolved with investors when it is time for the entrepreneur to exit the business? Know your exit strategy from the beginning. This might be couched in optional strategies depending on circumstances but knowing those options and their impact ahead of time is much more reassuring to the investor than going in with a “blinkered” hope for a wildly successful outcome.

Development of this depth of understanding can be achieved through use of a Business Model Canvas, which we mentioned in a previous blog post. The Gale Business: Plan Builder software available at the Naperville Public Library offers an electronic version of the canvas and will also support preparing a business plan and pitch deck. Each of these resources help to focus an entrepreneur’s ideas and knowledge.

These five “knows” are the extra factors that will assure success in a funding request. A pitch deck that demonstrates knowledge in these five areas will have much better odds of success than one that overlooks these investor expectations.

For more information about this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy workshop series or scheduling a one-on-one appointment with a business librarian or NaperLaunch coach.

Posted: 
Monday, July 12, 2021 - 11:45

4 Invaluable Business Startup Services Available at NaperLaunch

As of June 14, most Naperville Public Library services have been restored to full capacity. This includes NaperLaunch, the business startup services center and coworking space located at the Nichols Library in downtown Naperville.

Reopening means not only that our spaces and technology resources are available, including the free coworking space, conference rooms, and public computers and software, but also a reinvigoration of the NaperLaunch community, which is built on the people we connect with and the opportunities we create.

Whether you’re a returning regular or encountering us for the first time, we encourage you to take advantage of the key (and free) services that can be found at NaperLaunch:

1.Guidance and Mentoring

NaperLaunch coaches, including business librarians and volunteer mentors, guide entrepreneurs and small business owners through the process of starting or growing a business.

Members of the library’s Business Services team can provide a one-on-one orientation to the library’s business resources. Set up an appointment to learn about our workshops, roundtable discussions, and master mind groups and receive a demonstration on how to use our online resources to conduct market research, create mailing lists, or write a business plan.

In addition, the library partners with SCORE Fox Valley, a volunteer organization of experienced business leaders who mentor entrepreneurs and small business owners. SCORE mentors provide customized assistance in starting and expanding a business. SCORE volunteers attend at NaperLaunch events and accept appointments for individual mentoring sessions.

2.Business Education

The NaperLaunch Academy offers a focused curriculum to help entrepreneurs develop fundamental business knowledge and learn the “lean startup process.” To meet the needs of busy entrepreneurs, the curriculum is presented in two formats: live workshops or self-guided virtual courses.

A series of evening workshops are offered on a rotating basis, with the next session beginning July 7. Participants can choose the workshops and sequence that best meet their needs. These live, interactive workshops are currently offered via Zoom videoconference.

For those looking to work through the courses on their own schedule, a sequence of 17 NaperLaunch Academy class sessions can be accessed on demand via the NaperLaunch BizVids webpage. Videorecorded sessions for each course are presented with links to handouts and PowerPoint presentations.

3.Peer Learning Opportunities

Peer learning experiences are designed to spark collaboration and productivity through group discussion and coaching.

Business roundtables are moderated open discussions addressing issues faced by the entrepreneurs and business owners who attend. These interactive discussions are designed to spark interactive communication. Participants take advantage of collaboration and networking opportunities as they gain significant insights on how to enhance productivity, strategic marketing, and overall business success through group discussion and coaching. Discussions are moderated by SCORE volunteers, who have extensive business management and business mentoring experience.

Several roundtable options are offered, including a monthly startup-focused roundtable, a roundtable specifically for women’s business owners, and an evening session offered in conjunction with the NaperLaunch Academy.

Master mind groups bring together established business owners. Each meeting supports collaboration and accountability through discussion, sharing insights, problem solving, and goal setting. Business advisors attend and add insights to the conversation in each meeting. Group members become intimately acquainted with the business models and plans of each participant.

4.Library Resources

Naperville Public Library has extensive online resources to help small business owners and entrepreneurs develop business plans, research market data and demographics, and more. The online resources are authoritative sources of information that far exceed the depth, quality, and relevance of search results generally available in web searches. They can be accessed from within the library, or from anywhere with your Naperville Public Library card number and PIN.

In addition, the library maintains a business reference collection that can be used in the library and a collection of business books that may be checked out with a library card. Business magazines and newspapers are also available.

Market Research

Using databases such as Reference Solutions and Gale Business: DemographicsNow, entrepreneurs can access information about markets, consumers, competitors, suppliers, and industry trends. This data comes from research companies and is only available on a subscription basis; it cannot be found in a web search. Entrepreneurs can develop all the information necessary for a startup’s strategic marketing plan by using the library’s databases and print resources.

Business Planning

Through several different resources at the library, entrepreneurs have access to example plans for every type of business imaginable, which can be a helpful guide or template for writing a plan. In addition, the Gale Business: Plan Builder software can be used to create a business plan to “take to the bank.” This top-of-the-line software application was, in fact, developed by a local entrepreneur in Naperville. Such tools are indispensable for a startup that is seeking to gain new partners, senior level employees, or investors.

These four key services only scratch the surface of what is available at NaperLaunch. Our coworking space nurtures an environment of networking and collaboration with other entrepreneurs, and our cutting-edge technology allows our members to produce professional results without the price tag. New startups should not overlook the extensive resources at NaperLaunch when seeking guidance and assistance along the entrepreneurial path.

To learn more, visit our website.

Posted: 
Tuesday, July 6, 2021 - 13:30