Protecting Intellectual Property in Service-Based Businesses

Nov 3, 2023 | Listen

Protecting Intellectual Property in Service-Based Businesses

When running a  service-based business, protecting your intellectual property might be the last thing on your mind with everything else happening. However, it should not be the last, but the first thing you do, maybe even when starting your business. 

What is Intellectual Property?

It’s everything you create for your business –  the company name, logo, branding, products, and services. However, it doesn’t stop there. 

Your unique systems, processes, frameworks, studies, and more are also part of your intellectual property.

Finally, it is also everything else you crafted that can bring in sales and help with business growth.

The Risks of Unprotected Intellectual Property

If you leave your intellectual property unprotected, your competition can easily snatch it up, resulting in lost revenues. 

Then, there is also the rise of AI and automation, making it easier than ever to copy someone’s work accidentally. The line between innovation and imitation is more blurred than ever, and protecting your creations is vital.

So, what is the process of protecting what you own?

Where do you start?

Is it better to copyright, license, or trademark your goods and services? What are the differences?

And how can you maximize your intellectual property to help grow your business?

Erin Austin: An IP Expert’s Perspective

In this episode, our guest Erin Austin and I discuss intellectual property and how to use its different categories. She’ll also share insights on how to get started with intellectual property protection for your business and how they can help you grow.

Timestamps for this week’s episode

03:55 The difference between the four US intellectual property categories: copyright, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents.

08:06 How copyrights work 

12:19 AI-generated content and copyright laws

27:47 Presenting experiences from individuals who navigated the process and its transformative impact on their businesses

35:59 Actionable steps to take over the next weeks to get started on protecting your business intellectual property

The difference between copyright, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents. 

There are four intellectual property categories in the United States, namely copyright, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents. Each has its unique characteristics and are applied to different things.


  • Protect expressions of ideas in tangible forms.
  • Gives you the exclusive rights for copying, distribution, public performance, and more.
  • Applies to creative works like books, art, music, and software.
  • Preserves the creators’ rights to their original content.


  • Safeguards brand identity and the origin of goods/services.
  • Prevents consumer confusion because it identifies the company, product or service.
  • Protects logos, names, symbols, and other unique and distinct elements.
  • Ensures consistent recognition and reputation in the marketplace.

Trade Secrets

  • Goes beyond standard confidentiality agreements or clauses to offer a higher level of protection.
  • Includes confidential business information that is of significant value.
  • Requires strict security measures and limited disclosure.
  • Tailored protection is based on the value of the secret.


  • Covers new, useful, and non-obvious inventions.
  • Grants exclusive rights to the inventor for a limited period.
  • Prevents others from making, using, selling, or importing the invention.
  • Encourages innovation by rewarding inventors with exclusivity.
Copyright only applies to things that are from humans or require human intervention. Machines are still not human, so (AI-generated content) would not be eligible for copyright protection.

How Copyrights Work 

Copyrights act like a safety net for creators. They were initially designed for writing, such as songs and books,  but now cover various creations, including coding. They automatically belong to the creator or the “author” legally. 

When you create something – spoken words recorded, text saved on a computer, or a photograph – it’s protected by copyright.

Here’s the key: You’re the owner of what you create. If someone tries to use your creations without permission, you have the right to stop them. But, if you officially register your creation, you get more protection. You can also ask for monetary compensation if someone uses your work without permission.

Now, not everything needs registration. Podcast episodes or newsletters, for example, might not need it. But getting that extra layer of protection is wise for valuable things that generate revenue for you/your business, such as songs, books, courses or proprietary business processes and frameworks.

“The value is in our expertise or how we provide value to our clients. What are we selling to our clients? What are our clients paying us for? And that is the thing that we want to protect.” — Erin Austin

AI Generated content and copyright laws

Because of how fast AI is developing, copyright laws are struggling to catch up, which can result in major challenges to copyright claims.  AI models like Chat-GPT have reservoirs of information that they use to answer questions or prompts without guaranteeing that what they generate is completely free of copied or “lifted” content.  

Now, if you use what AI generates as is and post it on a website or publish it as part of a book, that content is not eligible for copyright protection. This is because copyrights don’t apply to things created by machines but only to things created by humans or have had some kind of human intervention.

But if you ask the AI to generate an outline for you and then use your human intellect to flesh out and write an article from that outline, that content would most likely be copyrightable because your human intervention added a layer of creativity and originality on top of the AI-generated materials.

If there is a name or a logo that would just crush you if you lost it, then go ahead and make the investment in it

How protecting your IP can transform your business

Erin shared the story of a client she once had, a social skills educator catering to neurodivergent children in person. With strategic IP utilization, she crafted a licensable curriculum, expanding her impact across locations. Now, she earns from her expertise and the distribution of her curriculum. 

This is one example of business growth through IP. It can help liberate services only you can provide from barriers such as time and physical location. Instead of stretching herself out too thin by taking more clients or turning down clients full stop, Erin Austin’s expertise in intellectual property transformed her expertise into a product that others can use.

Actionable Step

Start by thinking about what makes your business unique. Maybe it’s your products or services or your efficient systems and procedures. Include all your original materials, how you get things done, and how you deliver value to your clients. 

Next is to start drafting assets that might be useful down the road. It could be templates, courses, or maybe even a book. These are the building blocks for potential revenue streams that aren’t tied to the clock or don’t require that you deliver these services physically or face to face. 

Then, it’s time to cover your bases. Start protecting your brand with trademarks. If it’s copyrightable, get it registered.  Don’t forget to review your contracts, especially when collaborating with contractors. Make sure everything’s spelled out—what’s yours, what’s theirs. You also need to think about your clients. Insert clauses that limit how they reuse the materials you give them.


  • Copyright, trademarks, trade secrets, and patents differ in how they protect creative works, brand identity, confidential information, and inventions.

  • Copyrights provide creators automatic protection, expanding from writing to coding and various creations; registering your work brings a higher level of protection and will allow you to seek compensation for using your property without permission.

  • The rapid advancement of AI poses challenges to copyright laws as AI-generated content might lack copyright protection. Yet, building on or manipulating AI-generated material can lead to copyright eligibility due to the creativity and originality added by your human intellect.

  • Through the strategic use of intellectual property, it is possible to transform your expertise into a licensable product, curriculum, process, framework and more to create a scalable source of income.

  • Actionable steps for IP protection include identifying your USPs, creating valuable assets, registering copyrightable items, revising contracts, and safeguarding client interactions with your work. 


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About guest – Erin Austin

IP Expert and Attorney

Think Beyond IP

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Erin Austin is a strategic lawyer and consultant who uses her 25+ years of practicing law, including roles as COO and general counsel at large and small IP-driven companies, including Warner Brothers, Lionsgate (formerly known as Artisan), MGM, Teaching Strategies, and M3 USA Corp, to help female founders of expertise-based firms build and protect saleable assets so that the business is ready to sell when the founder is ready to exit. Erin’s experience as a lawyer and as an executive–at the intersection of business and the law–informs the elevated legal and strategic business advice she provides to her clients.  

Erin is passionate about using her expertise to create an economy that works for everyone. Through her Hourly to Exit podcast and her consulting practice, Think Beyond IP, Erin guides women on transforming their businesses from unscalable income-generators into saleable wealth-building assets.  

Her special talent is helping women meet their growth goals by creating IP-based revenue streams. In her spare time, Erin likes to clear brush on her farmette, search for the perfect gluten-free baguette (all leads are appreciated!) and work on her backhand. 





About host – Kathy Svetina

Kathy Svetina is a Fractional CFO for growing small businesses with $10M+ in annual revenue.

Clients hire her when they’re unsure about what’s going on in their finances, are stressed out by making financial decisions, or need to structure their finances to keep up with their growth.

She solves their nagging money mysteries and builds a financial structure with a tailored financial strategy. That way they can grow in a financially healthy and sustainable way.

Kathy is based in Chicago, IL and works with clients all over the US.

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