The Design Business Show 136: Protecting Your Intellectual Property as an Entrepreneur with Shontavia Johnson

Director : Melissa Burkheimer | March 23, 2021
Check out episode 136 of The Design Business Show with Shontavia Johnson to learn all about intellectual property and how to protect your genius!

An expert in digital brand building, intellectual property law and entrepreneurship, Shontavia Johnson is a recognized leader and influencer throughout the country.

Twice named one of the top young lawyers in America, Shontavia’s unique background makes her the perfect coach for professional women who want to start businesses that leverage their ideas, expertise and intellectual property. She is a recovering patent lawyer who loves, but doesn’t actively practice, IP law.

Shontavia is the founder of the Brand and Business Academy, a program that teaches working professional women how to create their businesses in six weeks or less. She also serves as Clemson University’s associate vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation, where she connects students, corporate partners, startups and other universities.

As a speaker, Shontavia has given the closing talk at TEDxAtlanta, spoken at SXSW multiple times, and taught law and innovation principles in Europe, Asia, and across North America. She has appeared in TIME, the Washington Post, the LA Times, and on NPR. She was named one of 200 black women in tech to follow on Twitter in both 2018 and 2021.

Shontavia loves books, Meg Thee Stallion, and adventure sports. The craziest thing she’s ever done is bungee jump from the highest commercial bungee on the planet.

Here’s what we covered on the episode:

How We Met + Shontavia’s Background in Law & Entrepreneurship (1:58)

  • How I found Shontavia through B-School in the membership directory because I was looking for people in Iowa who I could connect with and because I needed a good contract, so she was the lawyer I hired
  • When Shontavia registered for B-School she was teaching at Drake University Law School but thought entrepreneurship was something she wanted to explore and shares she had never invested in an online program before, so she thought she’d learn about it and figure it out later
  • In 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit, Shontavia had to evacuate Manhattan, NY and says while leaving New York she thought about all the days of work she was going to miss which inspired her to take entrepreneurship more seriously
  • The business Shontavia started upon returning to Iowa after Hurricane Sandy was a flat fee law firm because she wanted to help people and shares that she’s been an intellectual property lawyer for about 15 years now
  • Shontavia shares that her first business did okay but the problem was that she didn’t know how to be an entrepreneur — She thought she should take whatever came through the door which resulted in her taking on way too much
  • How Shontavia and her family move around frequently and because of that she wanted to create something that could be of service to many people and feels strongly that basic entrepreneurship principles and basic intellectual property principles should be accessible to a lot of people
  • When they moved to South Carolina — where they currently live, Shontavia shares that they didn’t know a lot of people professionally so the first thing she wanted to do was get plugged into the entrepreneurship ecosystem there
  • Shontavia shares that Clemson University aligned with her personal and professional interests and when she first moved to South Carolina, Clemson was growing in the entrepreneur space and because she was a lawyer and they don’t have a law school, they asked where she might be able to fit in and connect some dots, which is what she gets to do at the university each day
  • The University gives Shontavia an opportunity to connect entrepreneurship around the state of South Carolina

Shontavia’s Business Today + Legal Advice for Building a Solid Foundation as an Entrepreneur (14:38)

  • Shontavia’s business called, LVRG (leverage) that helps women leverage their knowledge and expertise in their intellectual property to help them become entrepreneurs
  • Shontavia helps women start and grow their business while working full-time, and leads by example —she believes you don’t have to quit your job to become an entrepreneur
  • How Shontavia is not practicing law anymore but what she does is teach people how to identify their intellectual property and how to engage with intellectual property lawyers when it’s time
  • The story of Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx who could not find a woman patent lawyer in Georgia and had a difficult time finding a man who would help her— Shontavia shares this story because she wants to use her knowledge about intellectual property and entrepreneurship to teach people how to go into those situations from a position of power
  • As a lawyer there was only so many clients Shontavia could take on, but as a coach and consultant she can give people the formula for how to engage with lawyers so they can go out and create their ideas
  • Why Shontavia’s number one legal advice for entrepreneurs is to choose a business name that won’t get you sued ­— you spend a lot of time and money on your name, if you are using the same name as someone else and they find out you will have to start over again
  • Shontavia explains her second piece of legal advice, which is to make sure you register the right business organizational structure because it is more complicated than you might think.
  • The third most important thing Shontavia says is to make sure you do not commingle your funds; this means don’t have your personal account and your business account looking like the same thing

4 Types of Intellectual Property + Protecting Your Genius (29:17)

  • When it comes to intellectual property, Shontavia’s fundamental rule is that you should protect your genius, which means you should protect the things that come out of your head, the things that you have created
  • In the United States, there are 4 basic categories when it comes to intellectual property — patents, trademarks, copyright and trade secrets
  • Shontavia explains the four categories and says patents are what protect your inventions, trademarks protect the way you connect with customers, copyright protects your original creative works, and trade secrets protect things that have some type of value
  • If you take the steps to protect your genius, the foundation you set will get even stronger and will make all the difference in your business especially when you start bundling that intellectual property into contacts
  • Shontavia talks about the start of Oprah Winfrey’s business and how her approach to business and entrepreneurship was to consider her company an intellectual property company and why Shontavia encourages anyone who’s an entrepreneur to do the same in order to protect your genius
  • How it’s okay if you haven’t done all or any of the things Shontavia has mentioned needing to do as an entrepreneur, you can still do them no matter where you are in your business
  • Shontavia has created something called, The Intellectual Property Checklist, that walks you through the different types of intellectual property and where you can get started when it comes to intellectual property ­— you can get the checklist at the IP
  • How your goal should be to create an intellectual property strategy, and once you have that plan, you can find someone — probably an intellectual property lawyer to help you execute your plan and take those next steps
  • Shontavia shares that she provides a link in The Intellectual Property Checklist where you can get free intellectual property assistance
  • If you want to work with Shontavia, get on the waitlist for her Brand and Business Academy, which is a 6-week program she created to help women start and grow their businesses in 6 weeks or less ­— just fill out the application at the brand and business and if you want to learn more from her, you can join her email list at
  • Check out Shontavia’s live video she posted on her YouTube channel at Shontavia.TV the video is about how to start your business when you have no extra time, she talks how she does it and her rule of one strategy

Links mentioned:

Brand and Business Academy

Marie Forleo’s B-School

The IP Checklist 

Join Shontavia’s Email List 

Shontavia’s YouTube Channel

How to Find Time to Start a Business YouTube Video



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