Intellectual Property Protection: A Simple Guide for Startups


Intellectual Property is one of the most important assets of a startup, particularly if you are doing something disruptive or with new technology or new processes. Here's a simple guide for startups to intellectual property protection:

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While a lot of people still dispute the importance of the issue of intellectual property, the truth is that IP-intensive industries nowadays are a force to be reckoned with. Due to the fact that, nowadays, these industries employ over 55 million workers (and that this number seems to be growing by an hour), it’s clear that this is a fast-expanding industry that we’re talking about.

Here are some basics of intellectual property protection that start up owners should know.

Types of protection for intellectual property

The first thing you need to learn while on this topic are the four major types of intellectual property. Knowing this will help you determine how to file our own IP and what kind of legal mechanism is there to protect it. The very definition of industrial property is that it’s the creation produced by one’s mind and here, you have five (according to some as little as four) major sub-categories.

  1. First, you have the copyright which covers works of art and literature.
  2. Then, you have trademarks, which are recognisable signs like logos or slogans.
  3. Third, you have the patent, which is an exclusive right to an invention.
  4. Fourth, you have a trade dress, which is virtually the way in which your product looks (like a Coca-Cola bottle or a casing to an iPhone).
  5. Lastly, you have trade secrets which are virtually confidential information relevant to your company.

Types of patents

Due to the fact that patents are most commonly sought after form of IP protection, it’s also quite important that you understand subtle differences between three major types of patents in existence.

  1. First, you have utility patents, which is a form most commonly used for invention of machines, useful processes or product compositions.
  2. Then, you have a business method patent, which is virtually an invention of a new form of doing business.
  3. Finally, you have design patents, which are, more or less, ornamental designs applied to a product in question. The knowledge of the three will help you figure out where your invention belongs.

Recommended reading: Hot Property: Understanding IP

Hire some professional assistance

No matter how simple this may sound, the truth is that IP protection law is still in development and there are new rules and regulations being published every year. The issue of intellectual property is particularly hard to interpret when it comes to the sale of a business together with the IP in question.

This is why it’s smart to look for legal assistance when it comes to making a business purchase agreement. Ideally, you would take local legal assistance, due to the fact that regional IP laws may somewhat differ from their international counterparts.

Going for a patent is not always the best idea

While protecting your intellectual property may sound like the right thing to do at all times, keep in mind that this is not always a good idea. You see, sometimes, in order to protect your intellectual property, you’ll have to list all the ingredients/components or describe the manufacturing process to the fullest. This is necessary for a commission to determine whether there’s really been an intellectual property infringement or not.

The problem with this is the fact that you yourself might hand out a secret to your competitors who will, later on, be able to mimic the process, changing the recipe just so that they remain legally insulated. This is also why you need expert counsel before you decide to go for patents.

Start thinking about this as early as possible

The next piece of advice may sound as common sense, yet, you would be surprised to learn just how many first-time entrepreneurs tend to overlook it. Time is always working against you, which is why you need to think about the protection of your IP while still in the planning stage.

There’s no such thing as being too small for others to notice you. In fact, there have been some cases where major companies recognise the potential of startup’s invention sooner than the startup owners themselves did so. Keep in mind that you don’t have to act right away, sometimes, it’s enough just to inquire on the topic that interests you in order to set things in motion.

In conclusion

At the end of the day, protecting your intellectual property is the only way for you to capitalise on your own inventions, instead of having to share this massive potential with those who don’t deserve it. Creating success is just the first step of making it in the business world, due to the fact that protecting what you’ve created tends to be equally as important.

Recommended reading: “I Should’ve Probably Trademarked That”

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