You’re working 18 hours a day – or more – getting your startup business off the ground. With all the excitement and stress, it’s likely that protecting your intellectual property (IP) is not on the front burner right now. That’s a mistake. Failure to protect your IP cannot only devastate your business, it may generate costly litigation. Here are IP issues to take into consideration right from the beginning of your company’s establishment. This information is only a general guide, and does not constitute legal advice.
Protect your IP by filing for any relevant patents as soon as possible. Your window of opportunity to file is limited – just one year from publicizing new software or other inventions and the filing date. That’s in the United States. In other countries, you may have less time, so you want to ensure your foreign IP rights. It can take two years or more for a U.S. patent issuance. While you are waiting, keep improving your product or service, continuing to build your brand and protect your IP. As you develop new features for a product, file a patent for that feature.
As of 2013, it no longer matter to the U.S. Patent Office if your company was the first to invent a product – the first to file receives the patent. Yes, that means a third party can take your idea and patent it, leaving you in the lurch. That’s why a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) is crucial. Loose lips sink ships and startups. Avoid publicizing any invention prior to patent filing.
When it comes to disclosure and your company’s IP, trust no one. Get off on the right foot with partners and interested parties by signing an NDA right off the bat. If someone balks at signing an NDA, rethink your association with that individual. The NDA spells out what is expected of all parties.
Do Your Research
Make sure your IP is really and truly original. You’ve certainly done a rudimentary search, but it’s essential to dig deeper. A more detailed search is expensive, but without it, you could spend far more in research and development – not to mention the sheer amount of time – only to find another company or individual invented virtually the same thing. Many tech products seek to address similar issues, so what is uniquely different about yours?
A successful company possesses an instantly recognizable trademark. Take Apple, as an obvious example. The company has dozens of trademarked names, and you probably instantly recognize the name of an Apple product even if you’re not familiar with the actual program or item. If it’s “iSomething”, it’s Apple. Perform a trademark clearance and register your trademarks – “any word, name, symbol or device” as per the U.S. Patent Office – as soon as possible. Speak with a trademark damages expert if necessary.
Besides preventing IP damage to your new startup, there’s another advantage to extensive due diligence. When you’re looking for investors, all of that work indicates that even though you’re a startup, you received strong advice and know what you are doing. That generates confidence and makes investors more likely to fund the project.
Contact an IP Professional
You’re a business or tech professional, not an IP expert. Prevent possible IP damage by consulting an IP valuations or damages professional in the early stages of creating your company. An IP professional will look into the all pertinent IP aspects of your company’s code and service, and advise you accordingly.