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Protecting Your Intellectual Property in the Cannabis Industry

The legalization of cannabis is catapulting entrepreneurial business opportunities in ways few could have imagined even 10 years ago.

Legal cannabis is currently a $5.4 billion industry and the number should rise exponentially over the next few years.

While “budding” entrepreneurs possess plenty of passion, motivation, and creative ideas, most lack the knowledge and experience required to fully understand the complexities of intellectual property.

And just to be totally clear about it, the Merrian-Webster dictionary describes intellectual property as “an idea, invention, or process that derives from the work of the mind or intellect” and “an application, right, or registration relating to this.”

Securing your business’s intellectual property is just as crucial as any other aspect of your biz – and oftentimes professional help is essential. Especially in a place like the cannabis industry.

This complicated industry is challenged with harsh federal laws and rules that are different in each state. Even businesses that never touch the plant have to be extra careful.

Potential changes with the incoming administration warrant even more attention and diligence, according to Karen Bernstein, an Intellectual Property lawyer in New York City.

Get Highly Specialized Advice Before It’s Too Late

“Intellectual Property is an asset; it is property just like real estate,” says Bernstein, who will share some jewels of wisdom in her new online class with Green Flower.

Intellectual property can be used for collateral or loans, she explains, and securing your assets also increases the value of your business.

And investors are quick to recognize that value. In fact, Bernstein warns when an entrepreneur does not have their intellectual property protected, it’s a MAJOR turnoff to most investors. “You have to understand and protect your IP to pitch your business,” she says.

Creative Copyrights, Pot Patents

The cannabis industry is blossoming with creativity. It’s filled with talented artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs who have a true passion for this plant.

However, utmost diligence is required if you want to prevent theft or copyright lawsuits involving any of your work. It could be anything from logo designs, art, music, content or ideas.

Patents for example are one of many ways to secure inventive ideas, techniques, products, processes, recipes or machines. Do you know how to file a patent?

IP attorneys who understand the cannabis industry can help you make sure everything is legit and protected the best possible way.

Be Aware of Trademarks

You can trademark a phrase such as “Just do it,” a word like “Nike”, a symbol or design (swoosh), or a combination of words and designs.

A trademark owner can deny others from selling like goods or services with that mark (or even one that is similar). And although federal prohibition of cannabis has complicated trademarks, the upside is that the value of properly secured trademarks has increased.

Even water pipes and bubblers can be trademarked, too, as can educational newsletters – and if you want to be totally legit and avoid being sued for infringement, it takes more than just a search of a trademark agency’s website or a quick Google search.

“I hate telling someone they can’t trademark something in their state because someone else has,” Bernstein says, but it happens! Part of her process includes an extensive search of related products to ensure that words or designs can be used legally, and that the domain is logistically available.

Can You Keep A Secret?

While trademarks prevent use, and patents allow exclusive access, trade secrets provide protection for information that is kept from consumers. Your ability to keep a trade secret under wraps can also be determined by an IP attorney.

From cannabis cookie recipes to cultivation techniques, trade secrets vary state-by-state with no input from the federal government. Coca-Cola claims this to be the “world’s most guarded secret.”  It is known to only a few key employees, and locked in a vault in their Atlanta museum.

Confidential, competitive business information such as client lists or business plans may also qualify, if their secrecy has commercial value.

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