Owning a business can often mean that if you get sick or injured, you get a double-whammy: the illness (with its expenses) and no more income. Insurance is extremely important.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners have a tutorial which explains the forms of insurance and gives tips for evaluating insurance options. Go to http://www.insureuonline.org/smallbusiness/
Below are some basic forms of insurance. Only workers compensation is required by law. However, some landlords and businesses involving hazards will only conduct business with you if you have proof of insurance.
Types of business insurance
Property insurance: For theft or fire. Earthquake and flood protection must be purchased separately.
Liability insurance: If you are sued by someone
Business interruption: Provides substitute income if your business is damaged from theft or fire.
Key person insurance and group life insurance: Provides a lump-sum payment if a key person dies or cannot work anymore.
Home-Based business insurance: Covers items not normally covered with a homeowners policy, such as inventory and office machines.
Commercial auto: Covers you and your employees for work-related accidents.
Workers compensation insurance: Required by law for businesses with employees. Pays for expenses and provides income if employees are injured while performing the job.
Health insurance: Pays for medical expenses (except expenses covered by workers compensation insurance).
Talk to an agent: Every business owner should discuss their insurance needs with an authorized agent. In particular, home occupation businesses should review their homeowner's policy to determine whether that policy covers their home business.
On-the-job injuries: If you have employees, you are required by law to carry workers compensation insurance. However, this insurance is generally not available to business owners. Instead, sole proprietors and partners must carry their own health and disability insurance.
Ask vendors for certificate of insurance: Before you conduct business with others - especially if they will handle your products or will perform a potentially hazardous job (even driving a car), ask them to provide you a certificate of insurance from their insurance carrier.
The US Department of Homeland Security has resources to help prevent against cyber-attack. While large businesses have technical staff to monitor this threat, small businesses are extremely vulnerable. The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team has developed resources specifically for small businesses without technical expertise. The first link is information. The second link is an online tool to create your cyber protection policy. The third link has posters and information that you can use at your workplace.
The Goodyear Police Department in Arizona has developed these crime prevention tips for businesses:
Small businesses are very vulnerable to internal fraud. Larger companies have internal controls which reduce the likelihood of fraud. But small businesses generally do not. In addition, research shows that employees of small businesses are LESS likely to report co-workers for stealing than employees of large businesses. They are LESS likely to report friends if they see them stealing. And they are LESS likely to report their boss for falsifying documents.
Small businesses need to establish an ethics policy and continually remind employees of that policy.
In addition to an ethics policy, you need to have some minimal procedures in place to reduce the possibility of theft. Here are three resources:
Internal Controls to Reduce the Risk of Fraud -- a publication from Intuit Academy.
Fraud prevention checkup developed by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
A patent is an exclusive right conferred by law to an owner of an invention to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented invention for a limited time. The government grants this temporary monopoly in exchange for a full description of how to make and use the invention. The cost of obtaining a patent depends on the type of invention and the degree of complexity involved. To ultimately receive a patent, the owner of the invention will need to file a nonprovisional patent application. Roughly, the costs may range from about $5,000 to about $7,000 for an extremely simple invention (such as a golf training aid) to more than $15,000 for an invention involving highly complex technology (such as telecommunication technology). Some points to be aware of include the following:
All these factors point to the reason that professional patent attorneys are usually hired. Despite that, you can do some of the work to lower your costs. See Resources below.
Click here for a quick overview of patents, developed by the state of Missouri.
Before we begin...a warning on scams The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) warns all inventors to be wary of scams. Please read the following brochure before dealing with anyone other than the USPTO.
Three types of patents
Resources You can find out what patents have been filed that are the same or similar to your product by using Google's search tool.
You can search and apply for patents online at the Patent and Trademark website: http://www.uspto.gov/patents/index.jsp
Questions? For questions, you can call the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at: (800) 786-9199.
Software concerns If you have written software (or have employees or independent contractors who have written software), please consult an attorney to discuss whether to patent, copyright, or obtain trade secret protection!
Trademark vs Service Marks Trademarks are generally the words, logos, phrases and symbols used by manufacturers to identify the goods that originate from them. However, trademarks may also include sounds (e.g., the NBC chimes), scents (e.g., a fragrance for sewing and embroidery thread), colors (e.g. "pink" for insulation), and shapes (e.g., a silhouette of an "apple" for computers). Subject to limitations, almost any symbol, name, word, or device capable of distinguishing the source of goods may be used as a trademark.
Service marks are used to identify the source of the services of one individual or organization from those provided by others. Service marks and trademarks function in the same manner except that service marks identify the source of services rather than goods.
What to do You can talk with an attorney experienced in trademark matters or do your own computerized search with help from your county or local law library. There are also professional search services that can do trademark database searches for you or your attorney (typical charge: $300 to $400 for a basic screening search). Once you have researched the trademark for potential availability, the cost for filing for registration is about $1000 including attorney fees and fees to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. You cannot register a trademark unless it is being used in commerce (although you may apply for registration based on an "intent-to-use") and you will lose your trademark protection if you do not continue to use it in commerce. If you use your trademark in multiple states or serve customers in more than one state, you should register the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at: http://www.uspto.gov/trademark. The trademark registration process can take close to a year.
Copyrights Copyrights protect "tangible expression" such as that found in written documents, songs, recorded performances, computer programs, and art work (including advertising). The cost is very low (about $35 per application to register a work if you do it yourself online) and it is possible for nonprofessionals to do - although the more valuable your work, the more worthwhile it is to have an attorney involved.
Alternatively, a fee for filing an application for registration using paper forms is about $65. To request the appropriate paper copyright registration form, visit: http://www.copyright.gov/forms/.
Appropriate paper forms include:
The law is very strict on requiring written agreements if the copyright is assigned to another individual, a partnership, corporation or other entity.
The best practice is to consult with an attorney before commissioning any work or using someone's work.
Questions about the process or the forms? Visit http://www.copyright.gov/
Disclosure The information herein should not be used or relied on as legal advice or opinion about specific matters, facts, situations or issues.
You should consult a lawyer about your particular circumstances before you act on any of the information contained in these pages because the law changes, can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may not apply to your situation. This information is intended to assist you in understanding the basics of intellectual property law. It is not a complete guide and should not be considered legal advice.