THE BLOG
10/05/2015 12:14 pm ET Updated Sep 21, 2016

How The First Black Woman To Own A Natural Hair Product Patent Uses It As A Wealth Generator

If you're a small business owner, intellectual property is an essential resource. However, because it isn't a physical tool, many people tend to forget its necessity or are just unaware of its importance.

Luckily for Gwen Jimmere, she recently made history by being the first black woman to receive a patent for a natural hair product developed for and targeted to women with curly, coily and kinky hair textures.

Jimmere, founder and CEO of Naturalicious, received a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for her company's Moroccan Rhassoul 5-in-1 Clay Treatment--a hair product that does the work of a cleanser, conditioner, deep conditioner, leave in conditioner and detangler all in one simple step.

She initially developed this revolutionary product in her kitchen, and it is now sold in Whole Foods stores in the United States as well as in other locations internationally.

In addition to her patent, Jimmere also owns a number of trademarks for the company. As an independent brand, this gives Naturalicious an advantage amongst its competition. Intellectual property helps to strengthen a brand significantly, and can help a company develop stronger consumer loyalty by creating heightened brand recognition.

Intellectual property is at the very foundation of a business. It can significantly contribute to a company's bottom line and can ultimately be a major wealth creator.

For Jimmere, she had an idea that fit perfectly into the natural hair care world, yet was so disruptive that she developed a unique, systematic process for caring for natural hair that the world had never seen before--one that saves customers over 80% of the time they usually spend on their hair and over 60% of the money they typically shell out each month.

Her popular and coveted OooLaLocks Hair Care system is one that has gained both national and international recognition, as her line is now sold in markets such as Trinidad, Indonesia and South Africa.

Natural hair, being a $2.7 billion dollar industry, is a crowded landscape--something that Jimmere was aware of. However, her hair care line has managed to stand out from the crowd, gaining a solid cult following.

Even more, the fact that her product was considered valuable and original enough by the United States Patent and Trademark Office is not only an obvious win for Naturalicious, but a win for the natural hair industry as a whole.

This patent initiates the onset of product creators, quite literally, owning their beauty from a legal standpoint, as well as protecting their creations from imitators who seek to profit from their ideas.

In order to protect your ideas--your intellectual property--as a small business owner, there are a variety of ways you can safeguard your business. Here's a short list of things to consider:

Building brand recognition.
As a business owner, it's essential for you to develop a relationship with your consumers. This relationship is often showcased via social media, discounts, questions and answers and blog interaction.

Personal, one-on-one interactions such as these, especially when positive, associate the brand with an accessibility and quality that consumers see as valuable.

And, the more consumers interact with the brand online and its products in real time, the more a company's identifying trademark becomes recognizable, trusted and familiar. Most serious businesses have at least one trademark.

A registration with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office costs between $275 and $325 per class of goods or services, and is usually the first step for legally protecting your brand.

Beating the competition
In addition to patents, such as that issued on Jimmere's formulation for her Moroccan Rhassoul 5-and-1 Clay Treatment, there is also a group of intellectual property called "trade secrets".

Trade secrets should only be used if you can absolutely ensure non-disclosure and confidentiality throughout your organization, as any business with employees can be at risk of trade secret theft. As with Jimmere's invention, you can protect your unique innovations with patents.

Again, with wealth creation, trade secrets and patents can be absolutely valuable to your company because they protect an invention that is most likely new, innovative, original and revolutionary.

Online Presence
Naturalicious is sold in Whole Foods stores around the U.S., but establishing a strong eCommerce presence at the onset was the initial basic foundation of the company's sales and marketing strategy.

Any company trying to reach multiple audiences must create a powerful, memorable and relatable online presence.

One of the most basic ways to safeguard your company's identity is by registering its domain name, establishing quality search engine optimization and checking to make sure there has been no infringement on your company's name or likeness.

Social Media Interaction
Social media is a prime tool to promote your business, however, when it comes to intellectual property, be cautious with what you share about your company.

Revealing too much information or evenly accidentally disclosing confidential information could put your company and its intellectual property at risk.

Additionally, you could also lose your competitive advantage over other similar companies. Sharing too much of your strategy or history could potentially lead to infringement by other companies.

When it comes to protecting your business and intellectual properties, being proactive is a true investment. Be sure to register your company's name as a social media handle, along with any relevant usernames, in order to avoid dealing with challenging and expensive legal disputes.