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How to Protect and Enforce Your Intellectual Property Rights in Foreign Markets – Part 1

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How to Protect and Enforce Your Intellectual Property Rights in Foreign Markets – Part 1

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: September 28, 2011 Updated: March 2, 2014

Taking your small business global can be exciting. But before you venture into international trade, do you know how to protect your intellectual property rights? For example, how do you protect and enforce your trademark, copyrights, and patents overseas? What about piracy? Where can you find help?

Industry estimates of the cost of such theft range from $250 billion or to 750,000 jobs per year. These threats to ongoing invention and innovation make it important to consider securing intellectual property protection, whether you're a major multinational firm or a one-person home business.

The following tips and advice, courtesy of Susan Wilson, director of the Office of Intellectual Property Rights of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration will address some of these questions. (Wilson recently participated in two SBA podcasts designed to educate and inform small business owners on how to protect and enforce their intellectual property rights in foreign markets.)

Here’s what you need to know about the basics of small business intellectual property rights in foreign markets.

What are Your Intellectual Property Rights?

Intellectual property essentially encompasses what Wilson refers to as several “products of the mind”—whether they are innovations, commercial creations, artistic works, or inventions.

Trademarks, for example, are unique names, symbols, or logos that people use on their goods or in connection with their businesses. Copyright is also a form of intellectual property and protects original works such as videos, books, and songs – these exist worldwide, as long as you can show that you actually created the product. Then we have patents. Patents protect inventions – these can be tangible, processes, or even chemical compounds.

Do your Intellectual Property Rights Apply Globally?

While copyrights can provide protection in foreign markets, patents and trademarks tend to be geographically based, so you have to seek protection in the foreign market. U.S. protection laws will not apply. As Wilson explains, “…small exporters really don’t understand that their trademarks and patents… here in the United States won’t protect them overseas ... they really need to register in those markets.”

What to Consider when Expanding Into Global Trade

One of the major threats to U.S. businesses overseas is piracy and counterfeiting.  This is often motivated by a desire to capitalize on the popularity of your product and copy and create cheaper “knock-off” versions of it. This constitutes theft of copyright (piracy) and unlawful copies of trademarks (counterfeiting). According to Wilson, “Our exporters, large and small, face unfair competition abroad through this misconduct. There are all kinds of legal loopholes and issues to be dealt with. You really have to be smart when you’re exporting.”

So what is Wilson’s advice? Do your research, include intellectual property in your exporting business plan, and take steps to protect your physical business and also your Internet presence (pirates often steal material from websites) in any way you can.

How the Government Can Help

There are several agencies involved in various aspects of trade and exporting – each owning a different piece of the intellectual property pie. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Intellectual Property Rights, for example, works with U.S. businesses to help them deal with overseas issues related to government action that might be preventing them from registering or enforcing their rights or from entering a market in a free and transparent way.  In addition, if a business is presented with an issue overseas and is struggling in a particular market due to trademark or copyright infringement, the Office of Intellectual Property Rights will assemble a team of trade specialists and intellectual property experts to “diagnose the issue and do some triage” explains Wilson.

Tools That Can Help

Part two of this blog series provides more information on government tools and resources that can help small business owners deal with the challenges of protecting and enforcing their intellectual property. In the meantime, visit www.stopfakes.gov/smallbusiness operated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for information on what type of protection to apply for, as well as when, where, and how to apply.

Useful Links

Caron Beesley has over 15 years of experience working in marketing, with a particular focus on the government sector. Caron is also a small business owner and works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley


Hi Caron, How would this effect a business that needs to protect a "speaking conference" that would be taken around the world vs "goods for sale" that are discussed in this article? Any feedback is most appreciated. Thank you.

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