Washington State Small Business Development Center
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Intellectual Property & Risk Management

Risk management involves identifying threats to business and creating ways to reduce their impact. The goal of risk management is to use knowledge about potential losses and risks to avoid, reduce or transfer the risk before unexpected events occur. Risk exposure varies widely from industry to industry and even from business to business within the same industry.

Unexpected losses can derail even established, well-run businesses. When used in combination, risk management and insurance provide business owners with a powerful underpinning of security.

Adopting good risk management techniques will have the added benefit of improving your company's operations. It can also distinguish you from your competitors. Nothing is more appealing to prospective clients than a firm that is quality-driven. 

Helpful Documents

FAQs

  • How can I manage business risk?

    The insurance industry has developed a simple six-step process to manage business risk:

    • Identify risks - Closely examine your operations to determine where and how losses might occur
    • Evaluate loss potential - Determine the likely frequency and impact of losses
    • Define risk control techniques - Decide what loss control measures might be put in place to avoid, transfer and reduce impact. Is your insurance coverage adequate?
    • Implement risk control techniques - Put your controls in place
    • Monitor results - Develop management systems and standards that define safe operations for your firm
    • Evaluate results and adjust when necessary
  • How do I read and understand my insurance policy?

    Insurance policies are not on anyone's top 10 list of reading material. Most people only read their policy after a loss. Unfortunately, they sometimes find inaccuracies or exclusions that adversely affect the outcome of their claim.

    Reading policies ahead of time helps avoid this unpleasant surprise. The insurance policy is divided into 6 main sections. Knowing these sections and what they contain will help you quickly move through your coverage contract.

    • Declarations - Includes who is insured, the specific properties and risks insured, limits of coverage, effective dates of coverage, all forms and endorsements, insurer name
    • Insuring agreement - Describes the unexpected events that are covered under your policy
    • Exclusions - Identifies those events that are not covered
    • conditions - Specifies what you must do to meet your obligations as insured under the policy. This includes reporting claims promptly.
    • Definitions - Defines any word in the policy in bold print. This helps you better understand your policy and determine the extent of your coverage.
    • Endorsements - Identifies changes you make such as adding an auto or building location.
  • What are the key risks I can buy insurance for?

    The primary risk areas that are insurable are:

    • Loss of property you own
    • Loss of income resulting from damage to your property
    • Liability from causing damage to property you do not own
    • Liability from causing bodily injury to others 
    • Liability from causing financial loss to others
    • Employee dishonesty and crime
    • Loss of key people
  • How do I protect my company and my property?

    Your first line of defense is a solid insurance policy with appropriate coverage, which will both pay a claim and defend you against any liability exposures.

    Liability exposures have many sources. The vast majority deal with bodily injury or property damage that may be caused by your company operations or the products you produce or sell. 

    You also want to protect your own property, including buildings, contents, inventory and mobile equipment. Other special forms of property include money, property of others, electronic data processing equipment, data and employee property, such as tools. Most property exposures can be covered by insurance.

     

  • What about my auto exposures?

    Automobiles are one of the largest liability exposures you face. This includes your employees driving their vehicles on company business and the use of rental cars. Here are a few risk management techniques that should help you reduce exposure:

    • Check employee driver records. If you put an unsafe driver behind the wheel and they cause an accident, your liability exposure can be dramatic.
    • Make sure your fleet is safe to operate and well maintained. Develop a regular maintenance schedule and keep records.
    • Make sure you have the right insurance. Auto liability covers bodily injury and property damage to others. Auto physical damage covers damage to your vehicles. Uninsured motorist protects you if hit by a motorist with no insurance coverage.
    • Anyone who uses their own vehicle on your business should provide you evidence that their personal autos are covered. If they use their vehicle primarily for business, they should be rated as business vehicles. Your policy should be endorsed to cover "non-owned and hired autos" to provide you protection in the event you are named in a suit involving their auto use.
    • If you have coverage for "non-owned and hired autos" and "hired auto physical damage," you don't need to buy additional rental car insurance.
  • What should I know about Workers Compensation?

    Workers compensation covers medical expenses, retraining and loss of wages due to a work-related accident. Each state has its own workers compensation laws and systems. In Washington state, the state acts as the sole insurer for workers comp.

    You can take the following steps to lower your premium:

    • Different work categories have different rates. Make sure your workers are classified properly.
    • Make sure your company's claims history is accurate and up to date. If you have claims that still show as open but are actually closed, this can affect your rate.
    • If you are a mid to large-sized employer, consider the merits of a retro plan program that ties your experience even more closely to your own company claims.
    • If you are a very large employer (at least 250 workers), consider establishing a self-insured program that takes you out of the state system.

    Business owners often opt-out of workers comp to save money. This may not be a wise move, because owners have more exposure than they may realize. Plus, workers comp coverage can act as a foundation for health and disability benefits that are otherwise very expensive.

    Washington workers compensation excludes important marine exposures, including working on a ship, acting as a crew member or even working in some dockside situations. If your company is exposed to any of these situations you should consider additional marine policies.

    You should also make sure that your independent contracts truly fit that classification. If it is determined that your independent contractor is actually an employee, you are subject to workers comp premiums, claims and potential penalties.

  • What special risks am I exposed do by doing business internationally?

    With our ever expanding global economy, more and more companies have international exposures. This can be as simple as importing and exporting, or as complex as offshore manufacturing or establishing offices in foreign countries. Not all exposures in the international arena are covered by insurance. This is a key area where risk management and insurance should be used together.

    Here are a few areas unique to doing business internationally:

    • Importing and exporting transit insurance - Having your own cargo insurance will ensure you are covered if your goods are damaged in transit.
    • Getting paid - The Import Export Bank and private insurance companies have credit insurance policies available.
    • Foreign liability and property coverage - If you operate abroad or have foreign locations, you need specific international coverage.
    • Intellectual property exposure - If you are having a product manufactured abroad or are sharing valuable intellectual property, make sure you have international patent and copyright protection in force.
    • Foreign workers compensation - If you employ foreign workers or have your employees working abroad, consider this important coverage, which puts you in compliance with local laws.
    • Kidnap ransom extortion - In Mexico, there are 100 kidnappings a day, often to extort money from businesses. Coverage providers usually include services of a crisis management team, often located within the country where the kidnapping takes place.

Online Resources

  • U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
  • Disaster Preparedness for Business Owners

    SBA podcast. Business disasters can occur at any time and any place. Put your emergency plan in place before the disaster hits.

  • Insurance Commissioner of Washington State

    Understanding Business Insurance page. Also find tips on shopping for insurance, information on your agency and broker, and descriptions of different types of insurance. 

  • Insurance Options for Business Continuation

    Part of SBA's Management and Planning Series discussing the life insurance needs of a small business owner and how important business life insurance is when planning for the future of business.

  • STO's Patent Search System

    Great information about the patenting process.

  • Public Entity Risk Institute (PERI)

    An extensive collection of risk management publications, programs and tools, including a Resource Library organized by topic, audience, and type of resource.

  • Curtailing Crime-Inside and Out

    Part of SBA's Crime Prevention Series providing entrepreneurs with measures to safeguard against employee dishonesty, shoplifting, bad check passing, burglary and robbery.

  • Better Business Bureau's Security & Privacy - Made Simpler

    Toolkit to help small business owners manage security and privacy challenges. Includes tips for preventing hacking, phishing, data theft and employee theft. Offers guidance on whom to notify in the event of data infringement.

  • Annual Credit Report

    AnnualCreditReport.com is a centralized service for consumers to request annual credit reports. It was created by the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

  • Are You Covered?

    Learn how to read and understand your insurance policy. 

  • AskTheLawyers.com

    AskTheLawyers.com™ is a unique online interactive legal service available to individuals and businesses. AskTheLawyers.com provides access to attorneys in your area who are available for an initial online or telephone consultation for no charge.

  • Baldridge National Quality Program

    Easy-to-use questionnaires help you assess your organization's quality control standards.

  • BitLaw

    The Forms & Agreements portion of BitLaw provides access to forms and example contracts relating to intellectual property and the Internet.

  • Business Protection

    Open for Business Continuity Planning Tools" free online training from DisasterSafety.org." provides a toolkit to help business owners assess risk for a variety of natural disasters, conduct a business impact analysis, and develop a recovery plan.

  • Credit Risk Management

    from LexisNexis

  • Derwent Patent Resource Center

    The last three weeks of world patents free.

  • Employees from Heaven or Hell?

    A discussion of the factors influencing employee theft with tips for discouraging and managing the problem (from America's Best Business Practices blog).

  • Guide to Health Insurance Options for Small Businesses

    As a small business owner, you might think that offering health insurance coverage to your employees is beyond your reach, but it may be easier than you realize. This Guide is intended to help you find out. (Adobe Acrobat format)

  • Hometown Business: We All Pay the Cost - Stop the Shoplifters

    Suggestions for managing retail theft. (Note: University of Missouri Extension guidesheet.)

  • How Small Businesses Can Protect and Secure Customer Information

    Tips to help protect both your business records and your customers sensitive data (from Business.gov).

  • International Organization for Standardization

    Learn how to establish good quality control standards, which reduce your risk of product liability.

  • Legal- Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Law (eLaw) Web Site
  • Legal-Law and Policy Institutions Guide
  • Legal-Legal Research on the Web -- Washburn University School of Law
  • Lexis Nexis

    LexisNexis is a leading global provider of content-enabled workflow solutions to professionals in law firms, corporations, government, law enforcement, tax, accounting, academic institutions and risk and compliance assessment.

  • Making the Licensing Decision PDF
  • MicroPatent

    Some free information and fee-based patent, trademark and email alerting.

  • National Inventor Fraud Center
  • Nolo

    Nolo is the nation’s leading provider of do-it-yourself legal solutions for consumers and small businesses. Our goal is to help people handle their own everyday legal matters -- or learn enough about them to make working with a lawyer a more satisfying experience.
    Since 1971, Nolo has offered affordable, plain-English books, forms and software on a wide range of legal issues, including wills, estate planning, retirement, elder care, personal finance, taxes, housing, real estate, divorce and child custody. We also offer materials on human resources, employment, intellectual property, and starting and running a small business.

  • Preventing Employee Theft - Training the Internal Watchdog

    Theft prevention in six steps.

  • Security Planning & Incident Investigations

    The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

  • Security Planning & Incident Investigations

    System Administration, Networking and Security Institute: source for information security training, certification and research

  • Security Planning & Incident Investigations

    CERT Coordination Center: a center of internet security expertise.

  • The Consumer's Guide to Small Business Insurance

    Guide developed by the Independent Insurance Agents of America.

  • The Inventor's Digest
  • Thomson-Thomson

    Trademark databases and free domain name searching.

  • United Inventor's Association