Understand and Protect Your Medical Practice IP
How much thought have you given to the value of your intellectual property?
You already understand the value of your equipment, supplies, property and support staff. While IP may not be as tangible a resource, protecting it is an important part of running a successful practice.
“Creating and protecting your intellectual property is the best way to make yourself into an industry leader,” said Justin Mandel, an acupuncturist based in St. Petersburg, Florida who holds multiple patents and registered trademarks. “Potential patients or customers will seek you out because you offer something unique.”
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If you want to build and maintain your reputation and client base, your IP should be top of mind. Read on to learn about how IP builds the value of your practice and how to keep it protected.
What can IP look like in a medical practice?
Intellectual property refers to a category of intangible products — “creations of the mind” — that you can legally control the use of, just like physical property. If you own a healthcare practice, then you already have at least a few pieces of IP, including your practice name, logo and various components of your website. Most of the time, in healthcare, you’ll likely be dealing with trademark and copyright protection, says Arlen Meyers, an ENT-otolaryngologist based in Denver and the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs.
Mainly, you’ll use trademarks to register and protect your practice name, logo and slogans, and copyrights to protect any website copy, blog posts, articles and other creative content.
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If you develop a specialized technique or product, you might opt to safeguard it with a patent or trade secret instead. Patents protect against both intentional and unintentional reproduction of IP, but they’re expensive and take years to obtain. Unlike with patents, there are no formal requirements for protecting trade secrets, which typically take less time and money to secure, making them preferable for products with a shorter shelf life, like software.
If you’re considering applying for a patent or taking measures to protect a trade secret, a consultation with an IP attorney may be worth the investment. As specialists in this area, they will be able to guide you through the process of obtaining a patent and/or protecting trade secrets.
Protecting your medical practice IP
Once you assess your practice IP, you can work on integrating IP protection into your regular business operations. Meyers recommends managing IP as part of your overall risk audit, the same way you’d stay on top of your insurance coverage or cybersecurity. “You don’t need to do it every day,” he said, “but on a reasonable basis, you should consider what your IP is worth.”
Keep an inventory of your medical practice IP and review it regularly to keep track of any changes. For example, if your practice logo is redesigned, you’ll have to file another trademark to protect it, says Meyers. Regular check-ins will also ensure that you don’t miss any trademark or copyright renewal dates required for continued protection.
It’s also important to review copyright licenses closely when you sign new contracts — say, when you hire a developer to redesign your website or a freelance writer to maintain your blog. You want to make sure you or your practice retain sole rights to the work, Meyers notes. Otherwise, it could be resold by the creator and used by someone else.
Meyers also recommends creating a Google alert for your practice name and the names of any other trademarks you hold. This will help you monitor your online presence and easily identify potential IP infringement.
The broader value of the “IP mindset”
You probably didn’t go into medicine to worry about trademarks, copyrights an any other IP, so you might need to make a conscious effort to start thinking of your IP as an important asset.
Embracing a business-oriented IP mindset has value beyond simply protecting your IP. It encourages you to consider your practice and personal brand, says Edna Ma, an anesthesiologist in Beverly Hills, California. It’s a fringe benefit she discovered after creating and patenting BareEase, an analgesic cream.
“With products, you have to create a ‘brand,’ she said. “As a physician, each time you have a staff or patient interaction, you’re creating your own brand. Are you punctual? Are you caring? A good listener? Is your social media and online presence consistent with your overall messaging?”
Meyers feels similarly and notes that protecting your IP means recognizing the value of a lifetime of hard work. “We’re talking about your reputation and your brand.” he said. “That’s worth something.”