Intellectual property comes in various formats, including trademarks, copyrights and patents. While most large businesses have created and maintain enforcement on a large intellectual property portfolio, many small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) wait too long into their development to get serious about intellectual property protection. You want to be proactive with intellectual property in the early stages of your business, but protection alone can cost a lot of money in dealing with lawyers specialized in the space.

To make matters worse, the cost and difficulty in enforcing intellectual property rights can place a large burden on SMEs that would rather focus on growth-related opportunities and scaling their business at the lowest cost possible. As a lawyer who handles a lot of intellectual property matters, from trademark filings to infringement litigation, I understand the complexities that many small business owners face in this difficult area of the law.

Here are a few things you should consider in the realm of intellectual property.

What are the biggest challenges with intellectual property protection?

I have worked with many companies in protecting their valuable intellectual property within the U.S. After filing for protection in the U.S., they often realize that, as they grow internationally, a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office trademark registration only goes so far. Specifically, it only goes as far as the borders of the U.S.

Abroad, there are many infringers, particularly residing in China, who could care less about your U.S. federal registration and will rush to file a similar application to the registration you own, but in their jurisdiction. This often leads to issues with regard to rights to sell in that jurisdiction and ends up costing a lot of money.

The key is to map out where you plan on selling your goods and services, and be proactive about getting filings into those jurisdictions as early as possible.

Why is intellectual property ownership and licensing important for your business?

In a rapidly growing intellectual property market -- the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office received 440,768 new trademark applications in 2017, which was almost 14% over 2016's number -- it is important for SMEs to utilize intellectual property ownership and licensing at an early stage. Similar to real property, the amount of "clear land" available for intellectual property depletes by the day as more people and companies are filing trademark applications to protect their brands and patent applications to secure the utility or designs of their products.

Owning intellectual property helps you protect from others using something identical or similar to your creation, brand or product, and can also create new sources of revenue should you desire to license your goods or services out to third parties. Without protection, you could end up spending a lot more money in defending against someone else or even rebranding, and miss out on commercial opportunities.

What are some new technologies to be aware of in the intellectual property space?

Like any field, intellectual property itself is being disrupted by new technologies. One example is a company called TM Cloud, which assists with managing intellectual property filings so that it is easy to stay up to date with deadlines on when certain documents must be filed and to maintain important registrations.

Another example is NPER, which utilizes the blockchain to document intellectual property ownership and licensing through a public ledger, and allows the community to essentially score the strength of intellectual property in a way that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office does not currently seek to do through its approval process.

These are just a few examples of technologies seeking to strengthen the existing intellectual property space, and there is likely to be even more improvements in the near future.