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In the Know Find out all you can about patents, trademarks and copyrights now--your business will thank you later.

You wouldn't open your office for business but then go home without locking up, right? That's essentially what you're doing if you don't secure your business ideas. By taking the proper steps, you can protect your trademarks, trade secrets and product design and packaging with intellectual property laws.

Chicago attorney Kara E.F. Cenar of Bell, Boyd & Lloyd says that entrepreneurs should start thinking about these issues earlier than most do. "Small businesses tend to delay securing intellectual property protection because of the expense," Cenar says. But a business that hasn't applied for copyrights or patents, registered its trade name and trademark, or protected its trade secrets--and actively defended them--may have trouble making its case in court.

One reason many entrepreneurs don't protect their intellectual property is that they don't recognize the value of the intangibles they own. Cenar advises entrepreneurs to take their business plans to an experienced intellectual property attorney. Spending money upfront for legal help can save you from expense later by giving you strong trademark or copyright rights, which can deter competitors from infringing.

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