When it comes to startups, Intellectual Property (IP) issues are quite often among the most significant and crucial considerations that they encounter. As a startup faces multiple issues ranging from hiring qualified employees, developing an innovative product or service, to raising capital, intellectual property usually doesn’t get the desired attention. However, it is essential to make a point of the fact that IP is indeed the most valuable asset of a startup. Also, Intellectual Property Protection plays a critical role in preventing your arch-rivals from unfairly competing with you, obtaining venture capital funding, and leading to higher valuations when your business eventually gets appraised. So, let us now make ourselves familiar with the top 5 IP strategies that you must implement in your overall business strategy.
1- Keep your New Idea Aside from your other Employment Work
One of the biggest pitfalls that a startup might experience at the beginning is when it starts working on a new idea while they are working for a client. Without any second thoughts, conflicting obligations can put the ownership of your startup’s IP at risk. Therefore, you must always look forward to knowing your employment obligations, along with the obligations corresponding to the assignment of IP and noncompetition. You may also require signing confidentiality agreements concerning your new ideas and inventions with your employees.
2- Put in Efforts to Know your Market and Competition
Without any doubt, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for IP protection. An ideal approach to IP relies on the market within which you are looking forward to commercializing your idea. You must identify a few aspects, namely:
- Your competition in the market along with the Patent Applications getting filed in your industry;
- The pace and typical patterns of creativity and innovation in your target space;
- Strategic areas for innovation and growth; and
- The type of patent (design patent, utility patent, or plant patent) that shall prove to be most valuable for your product.
3- Evaluate your Core Assets Well and then Decide on the Form of IP Protection You Require
Many startups across the globe believe that IP protection is a complicated and costly affair, due to which, they fail to protect their hard work and end up forfeiting their IP Rights. However, with cost-effective and straightforward techniques, the startups can conveniently protect their core assets. A good starting point in this scenario requires a critical assessment of the value propositions of a startup and the core IP assets critical to those value propositions. If you are the owner of a startup, this kind of evaluation will also help you in raising funds along with protecting your IP assets. At times, you may feel that Patent Protection is the only form of IP protection available. Although a patent grant can prove to be incredibly valuable for your startup, you can consider other forms of IP too, including trademarks, copyrights, and industrial designs.
4- Make Sure that your Startup Owns its Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs)
Ensuring that your startup owns its Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) is a critical process, which requires your utmost attention. It is indeed imperative to identify and understand who owns what. A startup should always keep in mind the steps mentioned below to be sure that it owns all the IP necessary for its business entity.
- A written agreement should be used to transfer any IP created during the period before the incorporation of the company;
- All the employees should sign a confidentiality agreement, which requires the assignment of IP as a condition of employment;
- All the independent contractors or consultants should sign the agreements, which clearly state their obligation to assign the IP they develop or create for the company to the company; and
- Business partners, if any, should clearly articulate the ownership of all the rights, including the ownership of joint development effort.
All these agreements must incorporate the following aspects as well:
- A complete understanding corresponding to the fact that the company’s private and confidential information is only for its use and benefit;
- A disclosure requirement of any discovery, invention, or idea concerning the agreement or employment; and
- A clear statement of ownership of IP Rights over all the discoveries, inventions, and ideas.
5- Give a Unique Name to your Startup
One can never deny the fact that with a unique and memorable name, a startup can become supremely valuable in the business environment. Hence, as the owner of a startup, you must ensure that your business name or any logo is good to go for commercial use. For doing this, you can conduct a Google search to come across the business names that other companies are using. You should do a Trademark Search (or get in touch with an IP Law firm to do a professional search) before going ahead with the Trademark Registration of your proposed name. With trademark registration, your startup will become unique, identifiable, and visible in the marketplace. When it comes to domain name registration, you can search on GoDaddy.com or other such platforms to find out whether the domain name you wish to obtain is available or not. Also, it is highly advisable to avoid unusual spellings of your business name as they are most likely to create confusion in the minds of the customers and cause problems down the road.