Intellectual property is often one of the most valuable resources a startup can have. It’s no wonder, then, that it should take exceptional care to secure intangible property, the loss of which can be disastrous for an organization. How do you do this if you don’t have access to expensive lawyers? Read our article to find out.
Protection of intellectual property – table of contents:
- What is intellectual property?
- Why is it important to protect intellectual property?
- Determining IP ownership
- Trade secrets
What is intellectual property?
Before we explain how a startup can protect its intellectual property, it is necessary to clarify what it really is. Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, for example, inventions and artistic works. It can be divided into two categories:
- copyright – protects various artistic and architectural works
- industrial property – various patents, trademarks, inventions, utility models
Why is it important to protect intellectual property?
Intellectual property is particularly important for technology startups. Many innovative companies base their business model on such an intangible asset, and it is their driving force. It is normal that at the beginning of its existence, a startup often focuses on building its infrastructure, hiring employees and developing a product or service. Sometimes the issue of intellectual property is overlooked and forgotten, although it is the most valuable asset.
Determining IP ownership
To begin with, you should take the simplest possible step. This will avoid disputes in the future as to who owns a particular intellectual property. It is necessary, therefore, to develop an appropriate agreement to be signed by each founder of the startup, their employees and collaborators. This will confirm the transfer of intellectual property to the company. It is quite simple, and it is an effective solution.
The first type of intellectual property that a startup should secure is trademarks. These can be symbols, designs, words or phrases legally registered as representing your company. Thanks to trademarks, customers can easily distinguish your products or services from others, so they also help your company to stand out from the crowd in the market.
On top of that, a trademark protects your brand. It is an important element in the fight against fraud. A trademark confirms that the startup owns a particular name or logo and competitors will not be able to use them. It is therefore important to remember to register a trademark.
Intellectual property is often an important factor that determines the success of a startup, especially in the technology industry. It is absolutely necessary to patent any technical solutions, algorithms, software, etc. Many companies rely precisely on patents and these are their most important assets. Most often, patents protect an idea for a period of 20 years, although sometimes it is only 14 years. A distinction can be made between:
- utility patents – processes, machines, manufacturing articles, IT solutions, etc. (20 years)
- plant patents – new plant varieties, etc. (20 years)
- design patents (14 years)
Unfortunately, the cost of a patent can be an obstacle for a young business. Also, you have to consider patenting your solution in many countries. How to deal with this problem when you are short of money? First of all, you should keep your idea secret and disclose it to others only after signing a non-disclosure agreement. This is necessary until the concept can be registered.
Copyright is mainly associated with artistic works, films, plays, computer programs and architectural works. In reality, however, it also applies to all works created by employees at the request of the company, including independent contractors. In the latter case, the company must secure its interests with appropriate contracts, while what is created within your business is automatically owned by the company.
A trade secret is information that your competitors must not obtain. For example, it may include business models, information about formulas, processes, customers, prices, and suppliers, etc. If you want something to remain a trade secret, you must always take care of it. When conveying such information to an external party, emphasize its confidentiality, and preferably sign appropriate agreements.
Intellectual property can take various forms and be protected differently depending on the country. However, competition is always there for young businesses, and startups can’t afford to make costly mistakes. Therefore, it is best to invest in trademarks and patents as soon as possible, and if that is temporarily impossible for financial reasons, sign appropriate non-disclosure agreements.
Read also: 7 startup roles explained.
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