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The importance of a business plan

As Tennessee entrepreneurs know, there is no shortage of ideas about what it takes to make a business or corporation successful. As business practices continue to evolve, the business plan still remains as one of the most important tools a company can use to plan for and monitor its progress.

One of the primary reasons that a business plan is such a useful document is because it creates a snapshot of the way a business is operating at a moment in time. Writing down business expectations makes it easier to pinpoint when things are not going according to plan so that corrections can be made before it is too late. A business plan also allows an organization to thoroughly examine its operations and project what success in an area should look like. In some cases, this may enable a business to shine a spotlight on segments that seem to be running smoothly, but could be more efficient.

Information on trademark protection

A well-designed trademark can be a key to the success of many Tennessee businesses. Coke and Google are just two names that instantly call unforgettable trademarks to mind. Because they are so important, businesses should follow some advice when developing a trademark and remember a few tips.

First, they should work with an attorney who has experience in dealing with intellectual property matters. This can help facilitate the entire process and the business may be able to thus avoid legal problems and save money and time. Possible trademark ideas should searched at the outset to keep from duplicating another idea. Trademark searches can be relatively easily done through government and other websites. It is important to be sure that the proposed trademark is strong before spending money on its development. Trademarks in the United States fall into four categories. From weakest to strongest, they are classed as generic, descriptive, suggestive and arbitrary. The first two receive little if any protection under federal law.

Non-disclosure agreements and trade secrets

Owners of Tennessee businesses with valuable proprietary information may be interested in a recent case that sheds some light on what is required to maintain trade secrets. Failure to properly treat them as confidential can result in the loss of these important assets.

The recent court proceedings in an Illinois federal court related to a dispute between two manufacturing partners who had signed a non-disclosure agreement prior to sharing their trade secrets. After the information disclosure was made, the recipient of the information began to produce products. After terminating the relationship, the recipient continued to sell the products representing that they were from the original creator. This unfair competition issue was settled out of court, but the creator then sued the recipient seeking to stop the use of its intellectual property.

E-cigarette companies sued for patent infringement

Tennessee smokers may be interested in several patent lawsuits that were filed by a unit of Imperial Tobacco Group against numerous electronic cigarette makers, including Lorillard Inc and Vapor Corp. The suits were filed in a California federal court on March 5. In the suits, Imperial subsidiary Fontem Ventures claims that its intellectual property in the form of patents was infringed upon by the 11 companies in question.

A spokesman for Amsterdam-based Fontem Ventures said that the company had an active patent on electronic cigarettes at the time that the eleven defendants developed and distributed their products. He said that the company is simply trying to protect its property and recoup any compensation it is owed. The other defendants in the litigation are VMR Products, Ballantyne Brands, CB Distributors, Spark Industries, Logic Technology Development, FIN Branding Group, Victory Electronic Cigarettes Corporation and DR Distributors.

IBM markets patents to Twitter

Business owners and online companies in Tennessee may be interested in a recent purchase by the online micro-blogging service known as Twitter. According to reports, the social media company is paying IBM $36 million dollars for ownership of 900 patents. This brings Twitter's total number of patents to 956 with approximately 100 patent applications filed and still being processed. The deal was signed in December 2013 and announced in January 2014. The financial details of the agreement were released on March 5, but the deal is still subject to review by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

As recently as November 2013, when the company held an initial public offering, the company only owned nine patents. Since its IPO, Twitter's stock has more than doubled. Because of the limited number of patents held by Twitter at the time left the company open to lawsuits regarding intellectual property.

SCOTUS will hear several intellectual property cases

According to a recent report, the U.S. Supreme Court's current docket includes a record number of cases regarding intellectual property. The rulings on these intellectual property cases, which involve six disputes regarding patents and two regarding copyrights, may have an effect on businesses across the country, including Tennessee.

The court's current focus on business law may reflect the interests of Chief Justice Roberts, who has overseen a number of rulings made on the increasing complexities that accompany expedited technological growth and innovation. The renewed focus on intellectual property issues might also be a reaction to increased litigation of such cases in lower courts, particularly involving patents related to software. Such cases, which involve patent-holding companies about 19 percent of the time, is often the focus of the other branches of government who attempt to pass legislation that decreases litigation while increasing innovation.

Songwriters Equity Act draws support from Tennessee congresswoman

The Songwriters Equity Act that was introduced on Feb. 25 aims to increase the royalties that singers and songwriters get from the sale, distribution or other use of their work. Instead of using industry mandated licenses to determine royalty rates, the rates could be negotiated based on the market value of the work.

A rate court would be able to estimate the value of the work and set the rate accordingly. Currently, a royalty payment of 9.1 cents is issued each time a copy of a song is made. According to industry experts, this is much lower than what songwriters have been able to get when licensing their work for use on television shows and in movies. Those rates are not factored in to the compulsory rate of a given song.

Protecting a company's most valuable asset, intellectual property

Tennessee businesses may want to be aware of some common mistakes that entrepreneurs make regarding intellectual property. A failure to protect these valuable assets can lead to a loss of value in the growing business and less credibility when working with others.

While many entrepreneurs neglect protection of their intellectual property because they feel that they have nothing of value, this can be a mistake. Making it a priority can be very helpful to a new business. There are three ways to begin thinking about IP. First, take time to create a unique name for the business. This includes making use of search engines and other tools to ensure that it is unique and protecting that name in order to avoid later litigation.

Tennessee medical device maker sued over intellectual property

A surgical device company based in Memphis was on the receiving end of a patent infringement lawsuit recently. BioMedical Enterprises Inc. of Texas filed suit alleging intellectual property violation against Solana Surgical LLC. The claim regarded some orthopedic technologies that BME said Solana was using without licensing. BME claimed that Solana's line of products marketed as the FuseFORCE Fixation System was unlawfully taking business away from the rightful patent owner.

BME marketed its orthopedic implants under the brands Speed, Speed Continuous Active Compress System, OSStaple and OSSforce. The devices are made out of a nickel-titanium alloy that allows a device's shape to be changed at certain temperatures in order to help affix bone or soft tissue to the bone. This design and fabrication are thoroughly covered by patent according to BME's president and CEO, something on which he said the company prided itself. He said that the company used "great effort and ingenuity" to secure strong intellectual property protection for their bone-healing technology.

Business-to-business marketing in a wired world

Tennessee entrepreneurs know that business-to-business marketing is about tailoring communications to reach the right target market. Unlike basic consumer marketing, which can cast a wide net in the hopes of creating a demand, business-to-business marketing requires the right product, at the right price, targeted to the correct customer. And it can be tricky to come up with an online marketing approach that fulfills all of those requirements. It is thus important to devote some time and focus to the development of a marketing strategy.

In establishing a marketing strategy, it is first necessary to assess the basics of the business. Ownership and management must know precisely what is being sold, to whom and why. What is it that keeps current customers coming back? What sets this enterprise apart from its competitors? Knowledge of the operation comes first, before examination of prospective customers and clients.

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