Small companies need to carefully guard their products, including any custom software they may have developed for their business.
"Piracy and counterfeiting are on the rise around the world, and all American businesses—including small businesses—are at risk," says Jon Dudas, director of the Patent and Trademark Office and undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property. PTO has launched a national awareness campaign to provide information to small businesses on how to protect intellectual property.
Small businesses are particular targets because they often lack the expertise to effectively combat intellectual property theft, Dudas says. They usually do not have large staffs so such thefts often go undetected, he adds.
The trademark office offers advice on when to file for intellectual property protection, what type of protection to get, and where and how to file. For information, go to www.stopfakes.gov/smallbusiness.
Many Happy ROIs
What's the best way to calculate the return on investment for an information technology project? Here are four crucial factors to consider, according to Compass, a consulting company in New York:
Net present value What's likely to be the long-term value generated by the investment?
Payback How long will it take for the initial investment to be recovered?
Opportunity cost What investments will you forgo because of the resources consumed by this project?
Soft benefits What is the project's impact on qualitative measures such as productivity, image and employee morale?
New applications will be the driving force behind software spending at small- and medium-sized businesses through 2005 and into the first half of 2006, according to Forrester Research, a Cambridge, Mass., consulting company.
Forrester surveyed nearly 800 decision-makers and found that these companies have earmarked 26 percent of their software budgets toward new application licenses and 30 percent toward related app customization and integration.
In addition, many businesses are turning to third parties for app services. The number using outside providers to serve up their apps rose from 24 percent in 2004 to an estimated 40 percent this year. In fact, 50 percent of the survey respondents say they are seriously considering a move to hosted applications for their next software purchases. The percentage that will seek business process redesign is also on the rise, jumping from 18 percent to 26 percent.
The survey also illustrates a sharp difference between how the two sizes of businesses want their apps packaged. Medium-sized companies say they prefer to buy best-of-breed software and then integrate it. Small businesses express a desire to buy their software in preconfigured bundles.
In the poll, 65 percent say they use a Microsoft application development platform such as .Net or Visual Basic. Proprietary platforms such as IBM WebSphere and Macromedia ColdFusion came next at 30 percent, followed by Sun Microsystem's Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition at 26 percent. Sun Microsystems was mentioned 23 percent of the time as a preferred development tool vendor, although some of this may be driven by respondents associating Java with Sun, or smaller companies using Sun's free application development tool kit, NetBeans, Forrester suggests.
Get Rid of Pesky Cybersquatters
Domain name hijacking and Web identity theft present major threats to small companies that do business on the Internet, according to the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy of Sunnyvale, Calif.
Here's how Web piracy works: A hijacker sends an e-mail that appears to come from your Web site. This lets the bad guys fool recipients—your customers—into divulging passwords, credit card numbers and other personal information. Or, the hijacker registers a domain name that is intentionally similar to yours. This way he can capitalize on your Web traffic and snag some of your customers.
How prevalent is domain piracy? A recent study by security vendor Aladdin Knowledge Systems of Chicago concludes that about 15 percent of all spyware is designed specifically for perpetrating Internet identity theft.
Don't think your domain name is safe just because you've registered it with one of the domain name registration services. The spam institute recommends registering your domain name for trademark protection. That way you can sue hijackers for trademark infringement. Usually, a court will order the hijacker or cybersquatter to cease using your domain name immediately. Trademark law also lets you collect monetary damages and, in some cases, legal fees.
In addition, take the precaution of registering your domain name not only in the dot-com domain, but also for dot-net, dot-biz and dot-org domains, says BetterWhois.com, a Washington, D.C., domain search service. If appropriate, BetterWhois recommends that companies register their domain names in both the singular and plural versions: megabooks.com and megabook.com, for example.
Also, if your business' name consists of two or more words, register the name both with and without dashes, such as lotsofbooks.com and lots-of-books.com. Finally, BetterWhois encourages companies to keep track of the expiration dates for their domain name registrations. Once one expires, someone else can snap it up immediately—and scam artists are often waiting to pounce.
Watch What You "Say"
Unintended leaks of sensitive information by your own employees can cost you revenue, lead to legal penalties and put a dent in your company's credibility, according to Nucleus Research, a consultancy in Wellesley, Mass. But calculating the return on investment for technology that scans outbound e-mail for such leaks can be tricky because these systems don't so much cut costs as they help avert costly fines and penalties.
Companies most at risk—therefore those where the ROI will be highest—are businesses under particular regulatory pressures, those whose employees are not e-mail savvy and might mistakenly send out the wrong information, and those that operate in particularly competitive industries, Nucleus notes. Also, the higher the number of e-mail users and the greater the volume of e-mail sent out, the higher the risk and the higher the ROI from the investment.
On the Road (or in the Air) and Unplugged
A recent survey of business travelers found that only 25 percent of travelers in the United States and 17 percent in the United Kingdom take advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots available on airplanes and trains and at many transportation terminals.
Respondents to a survey by Gartner of Stamford, Conn., rated more personal space, bigger baggage allowance and better entertainment ahead of in-flight Internet and e-mail access. In fact, more than 75 percent of the respondents report they welcome the chance to be out of contact for a while.