How to ensure your intellectual property is protected in the international marketplace

Added to the complication of doing business abroad — tax structures, logistics, insurance, just to name a few — is the continuous need to monitor and guard your intellectual property in the fast-paced global marketplace.

Owners can lose sales due to IP infringements, suffer damage to their brands and goodwill, and lose revenue through missed licensing and product sale opportunities.

“One of the biggest changes we’ve seen over the last 10 years is that international IP issues have become relevant for smaller and mid-size enterprises,” says Steve Barsotti, a director at Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. “It’s a function of globalization and removing some of the practical barriers for doing business abroad. Participating in foreign markets, whether by contracting with a foreign supplier or selling product overseas, raises the issue of IP protection abroad.”

Smart Business spoke with Barsotti about how businesses can protect their intellectual property in the global market.

How has international IP law changed in recent years?

There have been strides made primarily on the procedural front through international treaties and cooperation. However, while those mechanisms provide more efficient procedures for initiating the process, the actual grant of protection is still a territorial and country-specific process. In other words, there is no ‘global’ trademark or patent registration. As a result, the cost of seeking protection increases as the number of markets in which you seek protection increases.

What that means for a small or mid-size business is that they have to be very strategic in where and how they’re protecting their IP, because the registration process can be very expensive. You always have to weigh the costs and benefits in a particular market and determine on an evolving basis what your strategy should be.

How does the Internet play into international IP?

The Internet is not bound by territorial borders. There is only one Internet and it’s accessible from everywhere in the world. So in a very real sense, the marketplace has shrunk and that raises new issues. For example, you may discover through a simple Google search a potential conflicting use of a similar trademark somewhere else in the world; prior to the Internet, there would be very little likelihood that an issue would ever arise. Now, because e-commerce is easily transacted across borders, there can be a very real risk of potential confusion among customers shopping over the Web.

To protect your company’s presence and identity online, effective domain name protection is critical. That, of course, means maintaining and renewing key domains, but also potentially protecting similar or alternative domains. Equally as important is protecting your brand and trademarks through registration in critical overseas markets where your sales will justify the expense.

If you do encounter an issue with respect to domains, there are processes in place that make it simpler to enforce your rights internationally, and that’s largely because the process is managed by ICANN, a non-profit entity that manages the assignment and registration of domain names. Anybody who wants to register a domain has to sign up and play by those rules; so some of the barriers that you typically face in the traditional legal process across borders are removed.