Part of running your business will be to make sure you’re properly licensed and registered with the appropriate oversight organizations in your state. Here is some guidance, along with a few key links for the Maryland area.
Registering Your Business
Maryland has an online portal, the Maryland Business Express, where you can take care of several important registrations all in one place:
- Register your business with the state: this formally creates your business as a legal entity, based on the structure you’ve already determined is best for you
- Register your business’s trade name with the state: this is essential if you’re doing business under any name other than your own, and will also prevent any of your local competitors from using the same name. It’s not the same as a trademark, which is covered below!
- Create the appropriate tax accounts
- Create a federal tax ID number, or EIN with the IRS: it’s like the social security number for your business, so you don’t have to use your personal SSN on business forms; if you think you need an EIN you can also get one on the IRS website.
More information on starting a Business in Maryland: http://commerce.maryland.gov/start
Fortunately, in Maryland most creative professions do not require any state licensing. There are exceptions: cosmetologists, stylists, architects, and certified interior designers, among others, need a professional license from the state.
If your business involves public performances, outdoor advertising or events, or employing minors, you’ll need to apply for the appropriate license or permit. There are also permits required by individual counties within the state that may cover other activities — take a look to make sure if you need any for your business activities.
- Occupational and Professional Licenses in Maryland (MD Dept. of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation)
- Maryland State-Wide Business License Search (MD Dept of Commerce)
- Maryland County Licenses and Permits
Sales Tax Permits
Even if you’re a sole proprietor on your own and keeping it simple, when you sell most products you’re required to collect sales tax and submit it to the state. If you only sell things occasionally (for example, you sell at only 3-4 craft shows a year) you can use a temporary permit, but if you’re selling things year-round you’ll need a full permit.
Currently in Maryland, most design services are not subject to sales tax: the key indicator that sales tax must be collected is if physical property of any kind is changing hands.
Registering Your Servicemark/Trademark
This is optional, but highly recommended to protect your brand as much as possible.
Brand names and logos for suppliers of products (trademark) and services (servicemark) can be registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They can include the name of your business, a phrase, an image (such as your logo) or all of the above; they need to be unique and unlikely to be confused with other existing marks.
You’re not required to register in order to use the ™ or ℠ symbols with your name and/or logo, but you gain significant legal protections if you do so. These include the ability to use the ® symbol, sue in federal court, and register your trademark in other countries, as well as preventing anyone of your competitors from using the same name. Registering your business name with your state does not mean it’s been registered with the Trademark Office, and vice-versa. Trademarks need to be renewed periodically or else they’ll expire.
If you’re creating branding materials for other businesses, you may want to familiarize yourself with the requirements for what can be registered in case your client wants to protect their brand this way as well.
Registering your Copyright
Technically, you’re not required to register for copyright; it’s automatically granted to the creator of any creative work — writing, artwork, music, film, etc — as soon as it’s completed and currently lasts until 70 years after the creator dies. However, to get the maximum protection, including the right to collect substantial damages in court from someone who’s used your work without permission, you’ll want to register it with the U.S. Copyright Office.
To register you’ll need to provide a copy of the work you want to protect (digital is best, so you can submit it through the online service) and provide some information about it, affirming that it’s your original work or listing any co-owners if it was a collaborative project. There is a fee involved, but you can copyright more than one thing in the same application as long as they’re related to each other in some way.
Regardless if you register or not, you can and should indicate ownership of your materials by noting the copyright symbol, year of creation, and your name/trade name on or near it whenever it is reproduced, such as “© 2017 Awesomesauce Productions” or “Copyright 2014 Jane Doe” This will provide you some protection from inadvertent pirates, and evidence in court if not.
Registering a Patent
Patents apply to new inventions of all kinds. They are registered, approved and enforced by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If your business invents new products – including new and unique software products – you’ll find more information at https://www.uspto.gov/patent