You’ve seen the initialism “IP” (I learned that’s the proper term and not acronym because it‘s not pronounced as a word). OK, INCPAS members see IP often, because we use it as a symbol for our magazine, CPA IN Perspective … or IN Perspective for short. But outside of INCPAS, almost everyone recognizes it as the shortened form of “intellectual property.”

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines intellectual property as “non-physical property that is the product of original thought.” Many firms and companies have some of that, right? But what many don’t think about is protecting that intellectual property. Why not? Original thought can take a lot of work, and protecting it only makes sense.

What I mean by protecting is formal protection, and in some cases legal protection. That way your original thought cannot be stolen or otherwise used without permission, or at least if it is, you will have some recourse. There are different protections available, depending on what you’re trying to protect.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers those protections, and most of them are not at a high cost. A patent itself, which comes in three different categories, covers inventions for up to 20 years. A trademark protects names or symbols that identify a good or service. A copyright protects what is referred to as works of authorship, such as written pieces, art or music. And finally, a trade secret is a piece of information that gives a business a competitive advantage.

Trademarks and copyrights come in registered and unregistered forms. You may place the TM or © symbols on things without doing anything else, and still give yourself some limited protection. Registering those trademarks or copyrights, giving you the right to use an ® symbol or the same © symbol, involves filing paperwork and paying a fee. But it also gives you the ability to pursue legal action to prevent use or duplication of that intellectual property you worked so hard to create. It’s not that hard to get, and the piece of mind it gives you is well worth it.

So my suggestion is to give some thought to what your products of original thought are. It might be a firm or company logo, a unique service or product, or even a method or approach to doing something. Then learn more about protecting it from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and get the credit where credit is due. If you are unsure of something, there are attorneys who specialize in the area and can help. In many cases, you do it yourself.

Protecting intellectual property can help distinguish your firm or company from its competitors, and give it an advantage or at least some recognition. And in today’s crowded marketplace, that could give you an edge.